Leading Lady Emily: Troubled Teen to Youth Leader

I would like to Introduce you to Emily Hawthorne, the third feature for the Leading Lady Campaign. 

Emily Hawthorne on her wedding day.

Emily Hawthorne shares how she went from a troubled teen to an Out-of-School Time Program Youth Leader

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Emily Hawthorne the auntie.

Ta’lor: Thank you so much for meeting with me Emily. The first question I want to ask you is, who is Emily Hawthorne?

Emily: You know what, I am definitely a walking contradiction in a lot of ways. I am weirdness overload. I am a jack of all trades, and a master of none. I have ADHD, so sitting still gets boring. I love keeping busy and I have so many passions, so I dabble in a lot of things. I think it’s just because of how I was raised. My dad was so encouraging and I spent a lot of time with him. He allowed me to explore life for myself, and it made me who I am.

Ta’lor: One thing that you mentioned that stood out to me was when you said “I think it’s just because of how I was raised.” How were you raised?

Emily: So, I grew up in the hood in Toronto, Canada; a very diverse community. I had a ton of friends and it was a major highlight in my life. My mom had some concerns, so we spent a lot of time taking care of her and making sure she was okay. My dad is just the best person I have ever known. My dad is a very open-minded person, and he raised me to be the same way.  In grade school, my family and I moved to Cranberry Township near Pittsburgh, PA, a very all-white community with no diversity whatsoever, and I hated it!

“I had a friend back in Toronto and we would do each others hair, and she used “Just For Me” hair products, so of course, I used Just for Me, too.” 

Cranberry Township did not have Just For Me in any store in the whole town. My dad knew I hated it, but that’s how I was raised, to see diversity as beautiful, and I still live that way. He always welcomed anyone in his space. He is just a good human, you know? He taught me to see the value in everyone I meet, no matter who they are, what they look like or what they believe. Like, my dad is super-woke.

Ta’lor: You stated, “I have so many passions.” What are three things you are most passionate about?

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Emily and a program participant

Emily:  I love humor and laughter. There is a lot of freedom in humor, and I just believe that nothing should matter that much that you can’t smile or laugh. It has done me a lot of good to laugh off the little things. When the kids I work with are feeling embarrassed or insecure, I always try to remind them to not take themselves too seriously and find the humor in life.


I am definitely passionate about God, working with underprivileged youth, and I would say that I also love making people feel like they are beautiful and that they matter. I always tell the kids I work with, “the way you treat people and yourself, that is what matters.”

Ta’lor: Earlier you said “you hated moving from the hood in Canada, to a suburban all-white neighborhood outside of Pittsburgh, PA.” How did the move change your behaviors?

Emily: I was a lost cause, 100% percent, but there were a few people that believed in me, and they made me feel like I mattered. I got into a lot of trouble as a teen. I got into a lot of fights in school. I hated my teachers and so many of the students that went to Seneca Valley high school. I stayed in trouble

“When I was 16, I was court ordered to participate in the Homeowners Service Camp at The Pittsburgh Project.”

They would take you on job-sites to help fix vulnerable homeowners roofs, or walls; basically anything that needed a repair to avoid them losing their mortgage. I got to use a blow torch for the first time at one service camp site, and that is when my creativity began to take over my negative behaviors. I fell in love with being able to create things with my hands. I feel like God took me through everything back then to get me where I am today.

Ta’lor: So, The Pittsburgh Project (TPP) was a part of your life even as a teen. You have come full circle as one of their Youth Leaders in Youth Development. What would you consider to be some of your personal values that you are teaching at TPP?

Emily: I think that the idea of empathy is something that has always been super important to me. When I am working with kids, I share my experiences about getting in trouble at school, so that they know I understand them. When we moved to Cranberry Township, I remember feeling like none of the adults believed in me at Seneca Valley. I never want to be an adult who forgets what it’s like to be a kid.

“I like them to know I genuinely care, and not just when they are doing the things they should, but even when they mess up.”

I believe that every kid has something to offer and I tell them, “’the person that you are matters, regardless of what you do.” That’s a huge thing that I was taught, and it’s hard to translate to kids when they are young and discovering who they are. I work with middle and high school students, and I know many feel like they can’t handle that age group because, yes, they can be nasty.

Fun at Camp

I hosted a discussion a while back about the idea that ‘hurt people, hurt people’ with the kids at TPP, and shared with them that there was a period where I was a bully and I hurt people because I felt bad about myself.

Middle school is a tough age, and when I was that age, I felt like I was on an island. I know what it feels like to be misunderstood, which is why I have a passion for this age group; I can go anywhere in the world and talk to a middle school student.



I honestly think that even if I wanted to be a CEO of a company, I know I wouldn’t be able to do it, because I believe that God has a calling over my life. Right now, this is where I am suppose to be and I feel good about working with these kids.  

Ta’lor: What do you feel like is the greatest challenge working at a non-profit organization with youth in an urban community who are underprivileged with limited resources?

Emily: Well, working in non-profits, there is always a money struggle. I have always been the type of person who believes that if I do anything, I have to do it well. I feel like for me, working at TPP, I love that I am able to use all of my weird gifts that I have been given in order to make moments with the students; to make it fun, and give them something that they will remember.

“I am a theater kid, so I am weird and I like weird stuff, and I do my best to make sure that these kids will look back on a summer, and say ‘that was so fun,’ even though they were doing something that they never would have considered.”

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Wigging out!!!

I don’t look at it as a struggle, but telling the kids that the things that you say matter, the stuff that you look at, matters, and the way that you treat people matter. Like, by not doing your homework today, that matters, and just because you don’t like your teacher, by not doing it, it’s like cutting off your own nose to spite your face. You are not hurting anyone but yourself.

It’s always going to be somewhat of a struggle working with teens because they are teens, but I love what I do.

Ta’lor: Well, I have to say that the passion that you have for middle school aged students is inspiring, because those preteen years are confusing and filled with insecurity, and having someone in their corner that actually can relate so so many of their struggles are a blessing. Did you always want to work with youth?

Emily: In a sense, I did. I wanted to be an art teacher and I also wanted to do theater; I even considered moving to New York. I went to OCAD University and dealt with some major family problems concerning my mom, so I left OCAD, went to beauty school at Empire, and loved it. I got my Cosmetology License, and I did makeup for theater performances for so many years. Currently, I do hair and makeup on the weekends for a lot of, for lack of better words, rich white women. I love being an artist and making my clients feel beautiful. I mean, anyone can smack a Instagram eye-brow or a cat-eye on someone and tell them they look good, and they can still think they look ridiculous. That is what I loved about going to beauty school, because we were taught to listen to our clients.

“But, more than that, when I do makeup, I am able to connect my worlds by providing a service and showing people the respect that they deserve.”

I think that is huge, and I think that matters. I listen to them, and after spending hours with these women, they get to ask me what I do, and I tell them, “I work for The Pittsburgh Project with middle and high school kids,” and they always say, “aw bless your heart,” and it makes me question, why they think I need a pat on the back or sympathy because of where I work and what I do?

When I was growing up, I lived in a multi-racial community and I was taught to have respect for everyone and their differences.

“I was raised to respect cultural boundaries. Here in Pittsburgh, I have to explain to white people that they shouldn’t be saying the ‘n-word’ singing along to a song, and when I say that, they listen, but when someone of color says it, then it’s them being too sensitive.”

I have a lot of pride in working with youth and being a cosmetologist, and I think sometimes the rich look down on the poor as if there is no value in having less, but I know that there really is, and that is why I share my passion for youth with them and how I love what I do.

Ta’lor: I think that it is amazing that you have such a passion for working with youth and for diversity. What do you see for the future as a Youth Leader?

Emily making props with youth in programs

Emily: I don’t know, to be honest. I do know that one of the things that sucks about me is, I just have such a hard time in school. I don’t have a proper degree, and I looked into community college at CCAC, and it’s just schooling, it’s just not for me. I have the most respect for anyone who was able to finish school, but for me, that’s like my nightmare.

“Right now, I wouldn’t say I am comfortable because I feel like anytime you are too comfortable where you are, that is when God just pulls the rug out from under you.”

I know that I am where I am for a reason and I am just trusting that wherever I end up, that no matter what, it is of God, and he will guide me.


Ta’lor: I am so thankful to you Emily. For being an active voice to these kids, for your advocacy, and for being unique in all that you do. My final question is, who would you consider to be a Leading Lady?

Emily: I think that a Leading Lady is a woman that has done the work to understand herself, her strengths, her weaknesses, and what she has to offer the world. It’s someone who uses her attributes in a way that sets an example to others. It’s someone who is comfortable being who they are; doing what they do, and doing it really well.

“I believe that the way that you treat people, the work that you do, and how you do it, that matters.”

To me a Leading Lady is about doing her thing and doing it well, but she is also about encouraging other women and girls to not compare themselves to any other woman, but acknowledging that we need to support one another’s differences.

LADYHOOD journey is so thankful to Emily Hawthorne for sharing her truth and for being a light in the lives of the youth in my hometown, Pittsburgh, PA. Every kid deserves a mentor and a leader who has blue hair, tattoos, and preaches God’s word, while holding a blow torch.

Thank you Emily for being you! 

About Emily

Emily and her husband Chris Hawthorne

Art school dropout, former lost cause, kid whisperer, mentor, textbook extrovert, side hustling, pro makeup artist & hair stylist, wife, Celiac, a Canadian transplant living in the North side of Pittsburgh who believes that teenagers are going to change the world. Emily graduated from Seneca Valley High School and attended OCAD University, formerly the Ontario College of Art and Design, in Toronto, Canada. She then received her Cosmetology License at Empire Beauty School. Currently, she works for Hannah Conard Beauty, LLC as a makeup artist. She also is employed as a Youth Leader for Middle and High School students in the Youth Development Department at The Pittsburgh Project.

“Just trying to be the person that I needed when I was young.” -Emily Hawthorne

You can follow Emily Hawthorne on Facebook HERE and check her out on Instagram as @emilyisdumb

About Leading Lady Campaign

The Leading Lady Campaign seeks to empower women and girls to defy obstacles, self-doubt, and fear so that they can reach their dreams. We want to highlight, promote, uplift each of these women, as they share their professional growth, intimate struggles, passions, and their future goals in their journey toward success.

LADYHOOD journey, LLC, believes that your journey is our journey. We all can learn from one another by empowering, inspiring and challenging ourselves to push towards excellence, at every stage of the journey. 

This Campaign will  highlight women at every stage of the “LADYHOOD journey,” as prospective business women, high school graduates, mompreneurs, new bloggers, professional bloggers, small business owners, CEOs and Founders, career women, bachelor’s and master’s students, mothers and single-mothers, and community and program leaders.

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6 thoughts on “Leading Lady Emily: Troubled Teen to Youth Leader

  1. This is AWESOME. Testimony that is doesn’t matter where you come from you can make an impact on the world. Using the things you are passionate about, life experiences, and God’s Kingdom to change the lives of many youth kids! So inspiring. Makes me want to get back in the youth community! Way to go Emily! Powerful woman of God! Thank you for sharing Ta’lor!!!

  2. Wow Emily sounds Amazing! I love reading about open-minded people who play an important part in molding youth. Great interview!

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