Abstract

Building Self-Esteem and Empowering to make healthy choices

 

Girls Only! was created to specifically attend to the needs of young girls in San Diego. Girls in San Diego live in a large, diverse county that faces border politics, racial disparity, gangs and drug activity, high unemployment rates, high sex trafficking rates, prisoners returning to communities, and disproportionate divisions of wealth. Girls in San Diego, following national trends, are increasingly involved with drugs, gangs, prostitution, and the criminal justice system. Girls Only! programming intends to prevent young girls from getting involved with these elements by building self-esteem and empowering them to make healthy choices. The goal of working with girls at the critical ages of adolescence is to help them develop self-esteem, life skills, and positive motivations so that they are equipped with the tools to help them achieve their goals and avoid getting into trouble as they physically and developmentally mature, especially before and as they are entering their teenage years and high school. Specifically addressing the needs of girls in this age range fills a need for prevention, youth empowerment in San Diego, as many existing programs target only teens or girls already in the juvenile justice system.

There is a need to empower girls!

Girls Only! was created because there is a need to empower girls. Racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and other oppressive forces persist at institutional and individual levels in American society and they disproportionately affect girls and women, especially women of color and women living in poverty. Girls today are exposed to sexual violence and abuse, domestic violence and abuse, relationship violence, unplanned pregnancies, drug use and abuse, prostitution, direct and indirect gang involvement, involvement with the criminal justice system, negative influential media exposure, unrealistic and unhealthy body expectations, inhibiting gender expectations, and poverty. Girls grow up in a world today where one out of every six women in America will be a victim of sexual assault sometime in her life, women earn approximately 78 cents for each dollar a man makes, women make up just 17% of government representation, and women and children represent 74% of the total number of people living in poverty worldwide. These startling statistics are motivation enough to pay serious attention to girls. Efforts to empower girls must be based on the belief that every girl deserves to love herself mentally, physically, and spiritually, and to have opportunities that allow them to make choices that benefit themselves, their families, and their community.

Educate young girls through prevention education

The Girls Only! toolkit is intended as a contribution to efforts to empower and educate young girls through prevention education. The activities in Girls Only! programming are hands-on, engaging, and relevant to participants’ own life experiences. Research shows that girls who are engaged in positive activities such as school, sports, or prevention/intervention programs are more likely to complete middle and high school, attend college, positively serve their communities, and reach their potential for future success than their peers who are not involved. Girls Only! uses reputably effective approaches to prevention, including: consistent mentorship, positive role models, supportive peer groups, interactive teaching methods, culturally specific programming, gender specific programming, and experiential education.

Girls Only! began operating at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater San Diego Encanto Branch, in the Southeast region of San Diego County, in the summer of 2009. Girls Only! is now a highlighted program at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater San Diego Encanto, Linda Vista, Logan Heights, and National City Branches. Girls Only! operates under the facilitation of the Girls Only! Committee (GOC), a collaborative group formed from dedicated volunteer representatives from several law enforcement agencies and community organizations. The girls who were part of the inaugural years of the program were positively impacted by the program as they seemed more resilient in handling adverse situations and holding themselves in a higher esteem. The participants did not immediately get along with each other and often hung out in exclusive cliques. Similarly, many of the girls were not interested in listening to the session facilitators. As the sessions continued and participants got to know each other, they hugged facilitators and shared personal stories. Today, the staff continues to notice changes in participants’ behavior outside of curriculum hours, including an increased willingness to discuss issues and help one another, as well as staff members, instead of fighting. Girls Only! is projected to expand programming to young girls and organizations throughout the county and beyond.