In my community! Missoula, Montana.
GUTS (Girls Using Their Strengths) is a part of our local chapter of YWCA. It is funded through grants, donations, and a series of volunteer-run thrift stores.
My duties were to provide a safe and supportive environment for middle-school aged girls to explore and develop their own skills and talents. We facilitated activities that were meant to encourage young women to discover what they can offer to their world and community, as well as explore important issues, build strong leadership skills, encourage confidence, and develop positive relationships. GUTS is an after school activity which gives facilitators like myself a lot of guidance as well as creativity in building effective curriculum.
In the program, we do things together as a whole with all the schools, and then in the classrooms as smaller groups. Each year GUTS explores a certain theme, and the year I volunteered with GUTS, the topic was sustainable transportation. In the larger groups, we decorated posters for the buses, and each girl was proud that their work was hanging there when we learned how to ride the bus lines in a transportation scavenger hunt. Together, we went to a skate park and learned to skateboard. Some girls sat bashfully on the sidelines while boys skated around carelessly. As they saw how much fun the skateboarding looked and how unnecessary their embarrassment was, every girl tried to skateboard. Empowerment sometimes comes in the smallest ways.
In my small group, in which we met weekly, the girls often seemed uncomfortable about how their bodies were changing. They put themselves down or seemed embarrassed about their sizes. So, one day a modern dancer came in from the university and we danced until we felt silly or graceful. Some girls didn't want to do every dance, but some dances we all were giggling and smiling. At the end of the class, we talked with the dancer about how she uses her body to make shapes and appreciates it for its strength and size. Another day, we made a "body map". We traced an outline of our body and wrote things that we noticed and appreciated about places on our body, noticing things that were symbolic or not-physical. At first, no one could think of anything. The girls were shy and self-deprecating. But then, they started to think of wonderful examples of how fantastic they were. For example, one girl wrote that she loved her arms because they allowed her to be a good pitcher in softball and another loved her arms because she likes to hug her friends to show them she loves them.
It was so rewarding to see girls push their boundaries. Once, we made sushi and talked about the importance and definition of "culture". None of the girls in my group had tried sushi before. They all tried it, which was a simple success.
It is also rewarding to spend time with a different age group: middle schoolers often laugh at different things, want to talk about different subjects, and have different expectations. Yet, we always find common ground and ways to laugh and talk with one another in meaningful ways.