OAKLAND -- One thing Anne Moses noticed in her 20-plus years working with women in politics is the obvious gender gap within all levels, whether local or federal.
In 2009, she acted on her observations and created Ignite, a nonpartisan organization that reaches out to women in high school and college. The curriculum educates them about how the government works, why it matters, why having women in politics matters and policy issues related to the communities these girls live in.
"When women are in a position of power politically -- and it really doesn't matter which party -- the kinds of issues that get discussed and the way they get discussed are different," Moses said.
Although she says political women's groups like Emerge and Emily's List are helpful programs that ring true to their missions in preparing women for office, she thought it wasn't enough.
"The reason why (women becoming elected officials is) so slow is because we're not reaching women when they're younger" and motivating them to run, she said.
Ignite reaches more than 600 women, spanning two states: California (Bay Area and Sacramento) and Texas (Dallas, Houston and Arlington).
Moses plans to develop and expand the program nationally, with Colorado as a possible third state.
Local elected officials spend one-on-one time with girls and young women at high schools and colleges and at Ignite's annual conferences. They give their own personal account of
Councilwoman Libby Schaaf has done both: She's participated in the conferences, most recently the Ignite Tomorrow's Women Leaders Today conference on March 2; she's also been a guest speaker at the after-school program at Aspire Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy.
"When I look back at my life, there are so many points where a mentor made such a difference to me in sharing their life experience and showing me what I could accomplish," she said.
"So I have lots of karmic debt to repay in mentoring other young women just as I was so lucky¿ to be mentored in my past."
As an advocate for inspiring young women to take leadership roles in the community, she enjoys being involved with the girls at Ignite.
Last week at Aspire's Ignite program, it was clear how involved and motivated the girls are with the community issues they've adopted for their policy projects. Topics range from domestic violence to bullying to the financial differences between men and women.
Although the girls may not have had any prior knowledge about the government or women's roles, joining Ignite has taught them enough to want to be involved in their community. They also develop a sense of family with each other while building confidence and leadership skills together.
"I feel a lot of women think they don't have power, and I love Ignite because it gives me the chance to empower other girls," said Deyci Carrillo, an officer at Aspire's Ignite program.
"I've gained confidence in standing up for what I believe in and accepting others' beliefs, even if they aren't right."
Carrillo, 17, a junior at Aspire, wants to study political science in college and plans to be a judge.
"I think the program is amazing, and I think we're backed with a strong curriculum," said Sara Guillermo, an Ignite teacher at Aspire.
"The students have to find their voice, their community and even themselves -- and Ignite is a vehicle for that."
Guillermo hopes that these girls go on to become future Ignite teachers and great leaders in the community.
"There's nothing more important than nurturing the next generation of leaders," she said. "If you truly love the community you serve, that is an important part of your work."