I have been involved with Girls Inc. for ten years, through both the after-school program and summer camp. I had been going to a different after-school center prior to Girls Inc., and I was at first skeptical of the idea of going to a new place that only girls attended. As a tomboyish, lone wolf seven-year old, I had always gotten along better with boys. However, my views quickly changed when I began my experience at Girls Inc.
I soon made several friends there; I even met my best friend, Mara, at summer camp. Every day at Girls Inc., we would build structures with LEGOs, talk about important subjects like media and women’s rights, or play interactive games. The whole time, I had no idea I was learning. I was gradually being taught to think on my feet, to work closely with others, and to let my imagination guide me.
To me, the lessons on teamwork are quite striking. I was always a very imaginative only child, and a bossy one at that. From kindergarten to about first or second grade, I mostly played alone and when I did play with others, I always insisted on being the leader of the games. At Girls Inc., I learned to control my imperious nature and give others a chance to take the lead. I learned the importance of letting others speak before me, and of reining in my pushy behavior. To this day, I am still a natural leader, but I have learned to be a conscious one, allowing my friends and teammates to have a say in the plans and actions we construct.
One thing that helped with learning to work fairly with my friends was the way that conflicts were handled at Girls Inc. Any discord between girls would result in mediation. We would sit down with a facilitator and talk about why we were arguing. Through these mediations, I discovered much more about my friends and the way other people view the world. I have learned to think before I say something, and most importantly, how to apologize. I learned that it is best to acknowledge one’s faults and remedy mistakes whenever necessary, but also, not to be shaken when one’s beliefs are questioned. Instead, I learned to consider my own beliefs from different angles and to refine these beliefs based on what I discover.
Perhaps the most important concept I learned in my later years at Girls Inc. was self-respect. I was shown the way our bodies can be depicted in both negative and positive ways, I developed my own system of beliefs and opinions on such matters. I learned to respect myself, no matter what I may look like and to think carefully about how I want to portray my outward appearance. I learned about nutrition, about different behaviors to keep myself healthy and happy, and about making decisions that will improve my life in the long run.
Overall, Girls Inc. taught me to respect my body, my beliefs and those of others. It made me aware of how women’s roles have been shaped by the media and what we can do to change that. I truly think finding self-respect and motivation to set high standards and goals would have been much harder if I had never gone to Girls Inc. I am definitely stronger for my time spent there.
Life in the Company of Girls
I have benefitted immensely from the pro-girls, girls-only environment at Girls Inc. I learned to respect myself as a female, and always felt respected in every aspect of who I am. Throughout my years there, I was constantly supported, both by the other girls and my facilitator. My emotions were respected, my opinions were heard, my education was evaluated and advanced. My specific personality was welcomed with open arms.
I was never isolated from the others for being excitable or chatty, the way I was at school. Whenever I was sad or upset, I could always rely on the exceedingly clever women around me to advise me and help me through whatever had caused me strife. No matter what, my feelings were always taken seriously; even if I was the one who had been out of line or responsible for starting an argument, they always listened to my side of the story.
Being in an all-girls environment at Girls Inc. even impacted my behavior at school. I was much more willing to stand up for myself—whether against rude boys or hostile girls—and I was definitely less apprehensive about interacting with my fellow female classmates. As I learned about the images young girls are told they should conform to—skinny but with curves, perfect makeup, flowing hair, a certain color eyes, etc.—I grew to be sympathetic towards other girls.
At Girls Inc. I learned to see time spent with girls and women differently. I was able to be myself, and no one ever tried to tell me otherwise. I am braver and kinder for my experience. I’m happy with who I am and what I look like.