Three groups are on a mission to empower, inspire and help girls find their voice
In a world that often sends mixed messages to girls, it’s not surprising that self-confidence hits a serious decline once adolescence hits. And when you have youngsters already in uncertain social environments, the effect can be dramatic.
Across a broad spectrum of circumstances, a recent study by the authors of “The Confidence Code for Girls: Taking Risks, Messing Up, and Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self” notes a marked decrease in girls’ self-esteem from age 8 to 12 — about 30 percent.
So how do we create confident girls and allow them to maintain that level of self-esteem throughout childhood, adolescence and beyond? Three organizations in New Hampshire are empowering girls and providing programming and support and belief in those they serve.
Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains
Girl Scouts certainly have name recognition in a way many organizations do not. Yet if you think this nonprofit is merely about selling cookies, think again. Sure, cookies are still a big part of the scouting. In fact, it’s the largest girl-led entrepreneurial program in the world, according to Ginger Kozlowski, communications and public relations manager for Girls Scouts of the Green and White Mountains, and the largest financial investment in girls annually in the United States.
And it brings in the money to fund Girl Scout programming, too, while teaching girls five critical life skills: setting goals, managing money, business ethics, people skills and decision-making.
“We have more than 10,000 girl members and nearly 5,000 volunteers who live the G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader) philosophy and who are making the world a better place,” Kozlowski said.
The nonprofit’s goal is to develop girls of courage, confidence and character throughout New Hampshire and Vermont, she said, aligning with the overall Girl Scouts mission worldwide: Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.
To do so, the organization does its best to meet girls where they are and empower them to go on to be leaders in their communities, Carrie Loszewski, director of marketing and special programs for Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains, said. They want girls to believe they can make a difference in people’s lives and their own as well.
While times have changed since founder Juliette Gordon “Daisy” Low created the first Girl Scout troop in 1912, the mission has stayed true – to develop girls into leaders, Loszewski said.
Technology has expanded on how Girl Scouts can do that, she said, and opened the doors to new initiatives for the girls to garner skills and knowledge.
Even still, many of the badges that Girl Scouts can earn today had their genesis in the earliest days of Girl Scouting. Loszewski points out that the aerospace badge was created in the 1920s. Key programs span from the outdoors to STEM to financial literacy and more, and while the main concepts of Girl Scouting remain the same, how they’re taught and how a girl can participate continues to expand.
There are many ways for a girl to get involved and stay involved, even as an adult. From kindergarten through 12th grade, there are Daisy, Brownie, Junior, Cadette, Senior and Ambassador-level troops, along with opportunities for girls to be individual members, in an outreach troop, in a traveling group, as a canoe paddler, in a robotics team, exploring politics as part of Girls Rock the Vote, attending day or resident camp, and more, Koslowski said. There’s even an alumni association for girls (or women) of any age to continue connecting as Girl Scouts.
Koslowski said, “We are reaching out to underserved areas, and have begun 30 outreach troops serving 431 girls in K-12, at 20 schools and one Boys & Girls Club, where their costs are covered. Whether through their own cookie earnings or through grants and donations, money should not be an object for anyone who would like to join the Girl Scouts.”
The Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor any Girl Scout can earn, provides what Koslowski calls “a one-of-a-kind opportunity for girls to tackle issues they feel passionately about and calls for leadership at the highest level.” Those who earn this coveted designation often earn college scholarships, enter the military at a higher rank, are active in their communities and demonstrate high educational and career outcomes, she said.
Imagine having a place to go where you won’t feel alone, no matter what else is going on in your life.
For about 2,000 girls in New Hampshire, that place is Girls Inc., located in Nashua and Manchester, with programs at their centers and in schools.
Girls Inc. is “a safe place to talk about things,” said Cathy Duffy-Cullity, CEO of Girls Inc. of New Hampshire. A place, she said, where they learn “they are so much more than what someone may have led them to believe.”
The nonprofit not only provides that safe place but also allows girls to engage in a national curriculum, largely self-driven in the beginning by their own interests and needs, designed to allow each girl to learn vital life skills, gain confidence and set her sights on higher education.
The mission is simple; to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold — strong through healthy living, smart through education and bold through independence.
Duffy-Cullity, who’s been with Girls Inc. for 23 years, said the girls are able to focus on literacy efforts in economics and media, safety initiatives from the playground to dating, friendly peer interaction and practical life skills like car care in Girls under the Hood, to name just a bit of what’s available within the program.
Some girls grow up in the program, such as one young girl Duffy-Cullity recalls who came into Girls Inc. from a challenging background when she was just 5. Throughout her years in the program, the girl said Girls Inc. was the one place she was able to feel like a child. In time she earned a college scholarship and is now a mom who comes back to visit with the girls in the program, who are where she once was.
That this girl was able to be a child while there is important. Duffy-Cullity said Girls Inc. is “a place for girls to be themselves,” so critical at times when a child is forced to be so much more.
She spoke of another girl who wanted to attend a private school in New Hampshire that her parents worked at, which had significant academic requirements for admission. At first try, the girl didn’t gain admittance but she worked one-on-one with staff from Girls Inc. for a year to improve her skills and when she tested again, she made it. Her academic success led to much more perhaps than she may have one day imagined would be possible and now serves in the Peace Corps impacting others’ lives in positive ways.
From introducing girls to the concept of college to allowing them experience socializing on a college campus to understand what that experience might be like and how they can fit in, to a mentoring program, programs are designed to provide girls with pathways to realizing their goals and the ability to see themselves in roles they may not once have aspired to.
The circumstances in which girls come to Girls Inc. are not always easy ones to embrace, but the girls always are. “Every time a story comes up,” Duffy-Cullity said, “this is why we do what we do, that’s why we’re here. We’re here to catch them when they fall and hug them when they succeed.”
Throughout the years Duffy-Cullity has heard a familiar refrain from the girls. They say, “You’re my family. You’re my home.”
Girls at Work, Inc.
Two decades ago, Elaine Hamel was “a starving contractor” who had experienced how beneficial it was to bring a severely under-parented 9-year-old girl into her world.
The act of building, of learning about power tools, translated into power for the girl, too, and Hamel decided to see what effect it could have on other girls. The result would become Girls at Work, Inc., a nonprofit whose mission is to empower girls with the tools to overcome adversity and build confidence to face current and future life challenges. Here’s how it came to be.
By the time the 9-year-old turned 10, she was living full-time with Hamel, who wanted to sign her up for summer camp. She quickly realized she couldn’t afford the camp cost and offered to come to camp and teach the girls to build for a week in exchange. The two set off for camp, and Hamel set up a workshop in a pavilion.
She said, “The girls couldn’t get enough. They felt so powerful.”
Word of this successful initiative spread from there, as camp directors met at various conferences and Hamel said, “Word got around.” In 1999, she built a barn and build sessions with girls began in earnest. In 2000, Girls at Work, Inc. was formed and to date, she’s built with close to 20,000 girls.
The earliest days offered opportunities to work all over New England, and provided opportunities to figure out what works best for kids, she said. Hamel wanted to make a lasting impact and realized that afterschool programs are what she should be doing.
“We got into the school district about five years ago; 12 are Title I schools,” she said. “The girls spend eight weeks with us, once a week.”
The act of using a power tool, for many girls the very first time, shatters a lot of barriers, Hamel said. Critical thinking is a significant focus in the building process, too. Most of all, throughout the experience, she hopes girls learn that “finding and using their voice is the strongest tool they’ll ever use.”
She mentions two girls who were recently finishing up an eight-week stint at Girls at Work, Inc. Usually, by week eight, everyone’s feeling a bit sad because their time together is coming to an end. These girls, though, hadn’t wanted to come that day, something their teacher mentioned to Hamel, who wanted to better understand why they felt that way. The question was opened up to the group, generally comprised of 10-15 girls.
Most expressed sadness about it being the last session, but two girls said they were happy it was over. One noted she hadn’t liked the sessions at all, that Hamel had really pushed them on their projects.
The girls acknowledged that their parents made them finish the program. Hamel agreed she had pushed everyone and told them she thought what they really gained was the power to express how they felt, to decide this wasn’t for them and to feel comfortable in sharing their thoughts in front of others who felt differently. For Hamel, that was powerful in itself and she applauded their courage in speaking out.
There are many ways for girls to get involved with Girls at Work, Inc., through private birthday parties designed to introduce girls to power tools and build together, on location setting up on-site workshops and through classes at their shop in Manchester.
Girls at Work, Inc. continues to build on the experience it creates for the girls it serves, currently putting together a curriculum to partner with FIRST Robotics. Hamel said this will create an “excellent opportunity” for girls to continue on a path of gaining skills and confidence and feeling empowered as they move forward in their lives.
Pamme Boutselis is a writer, editor and higher-ed content director. The mother of four now-grown children, she is a serial volunteer and believes if everyone contributed just a bit to their communities, what an incredible world this would be. Follow her on Twitter at pammeb or at www.pammeboutselis.com.