About Us

Navigate Adolescence is a volunteer-driven nonprofit organization that provides weekend workshops designed to help young people navigate their relationships. All of our programs are designed to align with and support social and emotional learning standards.

Locally, we also provide parent education and Navigate Dads events.


Our History

In 2005, moms Mary Ellen Young and Cathy Fisher regularly witnessed relational aggression and the negative images and messages bombarding their daughters. They recognized the need for an organization to help empower young girls, and in response founded Helping Girls Navigate Adolescence (HGNA) to help girls develop the skills they need to thrive amid the inherent challenges of their pre-adolescent years.

Since its inception, the organization has grown tremendously in both scope and focus. In 2017, HGNA partnered with local moms to create new programs for boys, and officially became Navigate Adolescence in 2018.

Founded in Downers Grove, Ill., the organization initially delivered workshops in DuPage County, expanding to share the workshop curricula with learning communities in Cook and Kane Counties in 2012, and shared its Navigate Series Weekend Workshops nationwide in 2019.

Each program or speaker hosted by Navigate Adolescence comes to you as a result of the passion and effort of our part-time staff, board members, and many volunteers.

Navigate Adolescence Staff

  • Sandra McDonnell, Executive Director
  • Cathy Gajewski, Program and Administrative Coordinator


Navigate Adolescence Board of Directors

  • Ann Carlson, President
  • Christine Penn, Treasurer
  • Patrick Donnelly, Director
  • Sara Farrero, Director
  • Jason Lynde, Director
  • Nicolette Rini, Director
  • Christine Amstadt, Advisory Board Member
  • Shaun Emerson, Advisory Board Member
  • Mary Ellen Young, Co-founder and Advisory Board Member

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