Cynthia Bruno, co-founder and President of Girls Go For It tells an empowering and touching story about a young girl she worked with when the program initially started. “When we piloted the Girls Go For It program, I worked with a fifth grade class and one of the capstone projects we do throughout the course is to make a road map for success. The kids are in charge of setting a goal and then mapping out every step it is going to take along the way to reach that goal. One of the students presented her road map — she had been very shy and she wasn’t necessarily always volunteering to speak. She presented her goal, which was to be the first person in her family to graduate high school. Telling this story, even today gives me chills, because for her to stand up in front of a group of her classmates and talk about a goal like that and to see her classmates’ reactions — every single girl stood up and cheered for her. It was heartwarming and really highlighted how big of an impact this program can have for young women in our community.”
Girls Go For It began in 2015 with a pilot program at Carrie Busey Elementary School. It took place each semester for a few years, and is currently available once a year. “What we’re trying to do is give these girls a safe space to learn about leadership, to learn about themselves, and to think about what its like to develop those skills with other women cheering them on," says Bruno. One of the things we really want to make sure we are doing is teaching girls at a very young age that we, as women, are with each other and support each other and build one another up. We are hoping that it will translate to fewer instances of bullying, more confidence in the classroom, better goal setting, and gaining the confidence to take on leadership positions and raise their hand to volunteer to be someone who is in charge.”
Kelly O’Neill, a co-founder and Vice President for GGFI, explains in more detail the decisions that she and Bruno had to make in order to create the program the way it is now. “One of the things that I think was really important to Cynthia and I as we explored creating this program was to make sure that we are creating something that there was a need for and that wasn’t already in existence. We did a lot of talking to other non-profits in town, other programs that are for girls, to really make sure that there was a differentiator that we could provide by creating this.” O’Neill mentions that one of the unique designs of the program is that it is meant for students at such a very young age to better understand their own choices in their future career paths through constant discussions about higher education, about trade school, and life after K through 12 education. According to O’Neill, “We also try to expose these young women to women in different types of careers with different types of educational backgrounds. Cynthia and I met through the Emerging Community Leaders program with the United Way and we were both involved in that, as well as the C-U One to One mentor program. We both had mentees who really didn’t know what was out there and what was possible for them, and so that was part of the inspiration to help young girls be exposed to many different dreams beyond what they could imagine, and feel confident and empowered to pursue those dreams.”
According to O’Neill, “the program is a six week program that builds on itself, and we have modeled it in a way that there are coaches with each school, so that the girls see some consistent faces week to week with a positive ratio between coaches and the girls, while also focusing on one on one moments.”
Mallory Morris, who's in charge of volunteer relations for the board explains that the number one way the community can help is by choosing to actively volunteer and participate in GGFI. “The power of this program is that, not only are we bringing these sort of conversations to fifth-grade girls, but we are bringing lots of women to them. The more we can expose them to all different kinds of women with different experiences from many kinds of professional fields, the more we can help them to visualize how their life may potentially be. A huge part of being a role model is that you actually have to be visible. And so if there are people in the community who have been looking for an opportunity or wondering how to give back, it is such a small time commitment with such a huge outcome.”
Girls Go For It Board of Directors
For those who are looking to participate in the GGFI program, the commitment would involve spending an afternoon once a week and being willing to help encourage the empowerment of these young girls.
Though Beth Peralta, the communications lead of GGFI, says they understand that there are many people that want to volunteer but have conflicting work schedules or other commitments, which is why they offer many different volunteering positions that are more behind the scenes, whether it would be with marketing and communication, or event planning and fundraising.
The program also always accepts monetary donations because it will help keep the program one hundred percent free for all the girls who participate. According to Morris, “As you can imagine, with being in six schools, that is a lot of fifth-grade girls that we encounter each fall so we want to make sure to keep this opportunity open for as many kids as possible.”
Bruno explains how important it has become for her and rest of the board of directors to make sure to remove as many barriers to give greater access to the program. They have always offered the program completely free of charge and will continue to do so. When they set up the program, one of the things they were able to do was work with the Unit 4 transportation department and develop it so that the program ends at a time where free bus transportation is available and accessible to the kids that need it. GGFI has served nearly three hundred girls and forty-four percent have utilized that bus transportation home.
Girls Go For It has served Bottenfield, Carrie Busey, Kenwood, South Side, Stratton, and Westview Elementary and hopes to continue to grow and expand in the future. The program had its very first expansion into St. Louis in a public school system this past fall when former GGFI volunteer moved out to St. Louis to continue the program.
If you would like become a volunteer for Girls Go For It next fall, send a message on their Facebook page and one of the administrators will be able to reach out fairly quickly. If volunteers want to participate in the school setting, there are background checks and flexible training sessions for working with the girls.
Photo from Facebook