Tinesia Conwright founded the nonprofit DETOUR in 2009 partly as a result of her own experience with foster care children that were part of her family.
The agency mentors Black girls between the ages of 11 and 17.
The group’s name stands for Depositing Empowerment Through Outreach and Urban Development.
‘I grew up with six foster sisters who were all younger than me,” Conwright said. “I started to meet with them informally, taking them to breakfast and talking to them about teen topics. That turned into a more formal setting.”
With a staff of nine, DETOUR is based at the Jacobs Center in Encanto and meets at the Skyline recreation center.
The group also has a mentor program for girls in Juvenile Hall.
“I was raised in Southeastern San Diego and it was really important for me to provide additional opportunities for the girls who were coming from a neighborhood I was coming from,” Conwright said. “As I networked outside my community, I learned about new and different opportunities that often people outside of Southeastern San Diego weren’t aware of.”
One of the things that DETOUR stresses is the importance of education, a lesson Conwright teaches through example.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration from San Diego State University in 2004 and a master’s degree in 2011.
“I had the success, I decided this is what I wanted to do so I went back to school to learn how to do it efficiently and effectively,” Conwright said.
In addition to leading DETOUR, Conwright works full-time for the San Diego Housing Commission as a Youth Workforce Development Specialist and Community Outreach Coordinator.
She has a background in housing, having worked in the business as her first job out of college until the market collapsed leading into the Great Recession.
In 2013, Conwright formed the Leadership Academy as part of DETOUR, offering the program at the Jackie Robinson YMCA, O’Farrell Charter School, Steele Canyon High School and the San Diego SOAR Academy, according to DETOUR’s website.
“We meet every Monday with the girls and that has continued throughout the pandemic. We’re meeting on Zoom,” Conwright said.
All of the girls who went through the program have gone on to four-year colleges and universities, Conwright said.
The group focuses on team building activities and college preparation.
“Before the pandemic, we were able to go snowboarding and we’ve been camping, just giving the girls to connect, not only here, but to get away for a couple of days. Many of the girls hadn’t been snowboarding before or camping before.”
Conwright said it’s important for Black girls to see people like her as role models.
“When I was in college and entered corporate America, I didn’t see many women who looked like me,” Conwright said. “That’s what I like most about what we do, exposing them to women who look like them, who came from where they came from and are doing great things and letting them know they can do the same.”
Each year, DETOUR has an exposition – FANCY (Focused And Naturally Confident Youth) where girls meet successful women of color.
DETOUR also works with the Elementary Institute of Science in Chollas View to encourage an interest in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) careers.
“We know that girls of color are under- represented in the STEAM field,” Conwright said. “What we try to do is get them connected to women of color who are in the STEAM world to let them know that it is possible, that they can prepare and what avenues to follow.”
DETOUR also has an internship program and in August gave backpacks to 100 girls and gives out annual scholarships of $500.
Since 2011, Conwright said DETOUR has awarded close to $18,000 in scholarships.
“I believe in empowering people and giving them the tools they need to succeed. Sometimes they don’t know those tools and where to find them,” Conwright said. They just need a person to show them how to use the tools and guide them moving forward.”
Conwright said her goal now is to see DETOUR continue to grow.
“It is important to me to have a legacy and leave an organization that can grow beyond myself,” Conwright said. “Even though I started it, it is my goal not to finish it but to have it as a living, breathing resource long after I’m gone.”