(Photo by Betsy Barron Photography, courtesy of WRC)
Adolescent girls are faced with a variety of challenges in their everyday lives.
About 20 years ago, the Women’s Resource Center — a 45-year-old nonprofit dedicated to helping women throughout Greater Philadelphia navigate crises in their lives — launched Girls Lead, a school-based program aimed at helping middle and high school girls develop life skills to help them avoid common pitfalls that can lead to crises in the future.
In 2015, the WRC undertook an analysis of research on hurdles that are common among adolescent girls: bullying, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, school dropout, suicide, abusive relationships and eating disorders. The review revealed four common protective factors:
- communication skills
- conflict resolution
- problem solving
- decision making
These are also life skills which foster leadership ability, skills that Girls Lead cultivates.
Participants in Girls Lead are nominated by their guidance counselors and principals. The 12-week curriculum includes an annual Girls Lead Conference where each school cohort presents their Leadership Project, a campaign of their choice that they execute to positively impact their school or community. This year’s theme “Anything is STILL Possible” promotes hope for a better future and empowers girls to use their leadership skills.
A sneak peek into one of the Leadership projects — a Pen Pal campaign with a local nursing home — demonstrates the empathy and advocacy skills used to make a difference combating loneliness, exacerbated by COVID-19. “My nana is in a nursing home and she is lonely because she can’t see anyone — so there are a lot of people like her right now,” said one participant about the genesis of the project.
What do the girls take away from the experience?
Weekly progress reports reveal that the girls adopt real changes in the way they tackle social issues and problems. Once quiet girls become more assertive, and once aggressive girls learn to listen. This is achieved all within the capsule of adolescence, a time that has been documented as when girls may begin to lose confidence.
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This year the program is particularly important because it is fulfilling a need for connection and relationship-building during a pandemic.
Indeed, during this pandemic, Girls Lead is more relevant than ever. Life skills that help girls become more assertive in their relationships while considering multiple viewpoints, managing conflict, expressing themselves with confidence and making good decisions are a priority during times of high stress and isolation.
Girls Lead has curriculum has been updated and adapted and is being conducted entirely virtually this year. We’re serving about 75 girls — a significant reduction over last year’s total of 233. The main reason for the decreased participation is the pandemic’s strain on schools, but we anticipate a strong rebound of participation once schools return to in-person learning. The skills taught in Girls Lead will be valuable helping students as they re-enter the social situations of middle and high school.
The participants in Girls Lead 2021 come from a diverse geographic region, spanning Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester counties. Generally, the participants are new to the program each year, and WRC covers their costs. As word spreads, parents are also requesting that their school host Girls Lead. This free program, with a honed curriculum facilitated by highly experienced, caring social workers, counselors, and teachers, can benefit all schools. It is only a matter of funding.
Currently the program receives funding from individuals and foundations. It can be considered a program for at-risk youth as well as a life-skills building initiative and leadership boot camp.
By teaching girls to be leaders at a young age, we are not only protecting them against dangerous pitfalls of adolescence, but we are also giving them the chance to continue to lead throughout their entire lives, contributing to society at large. One participant summed it up nicely: “Girls Lead has helped me grow as a human and as a leader, all while having fun.”
For more information about WRC and Girls Lead, please visit www.women’s resource center.net.-30-
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