The Future of Girls in the Game by Amy Skeen

Have you heard? We’re moving our blog to Medium to engage with more supporters. Start following our new blog, and we will still arrive in your inbox once a week!

During one week in late July, my life flashed before my ears. Yes, my ears – not my eyes.

Actually, it was the life of Girls in the Game as I heard (or reheard) the stories of dozens of people who have been involved somewhere along the way over the organization’s 22-year history.

I count myself among the lucky ones, having been connected to Girls in the Game from the beginning. I started as a volunteer, then served for 16 years as one of the leaders, and now again as a volunteer. I also feel fortunate to have met thousands of people over the years, many of whom have never met one another, but all of who share a passion and dedication that connects us to this very special organization and to each other.

Each person I listened to was a part of one or more chapters of Girls in the Game. Their words brought the history of Girls in the Game to life and are a part of ensuring Girls in the Game has a solid and mission-filled future.

Amy Skeen
Amy working with two girls in our programs during her time as Executive Director.

At a special event, Marilynn, our founding board chair, spoke of Girls in the Game’s earliest years. She reminisced about our early fundraisers in a local gym where we donned gym shoes and dined on picnic foods. There wasn’t a lot of glamour, but there was never a shortage of laughter and the focus was always on the girls. It is why Marilynn is still an active board member today.

At the same event I saw Carrie, who was a staff person when we had just a handful of employees. Hired to help raise funds, she quickly learned to wear many hats, from filling in for a sick After School coach, to plunging the toilets. Whatever the task, she rolled up her sleeves and jumped in.  She explained that when you believe in something and see the impact on so many girls, you just do whatever it takes.

I thought of Claire, now a mother herself, who was one of the first girls to get involved. She is still involved, now serving on our Auxiliary Board, a group of young professionals who want to give back and make a difference for girls across Chicago. As Claire puts it, “I want them to have a chance to become the best versions of themselves, like I did.”

In the same week, I saw that potential in action when I stopped by Summer Camp. Rose just graduated high school and has been involved with Girls in the Game since her first Summer Camp experience when she was 11. Rose is now one of our amazing leaders, serving as a counselor for younger girls at camp, but she wasn’t always present with the confidence and smiling face she does now. Prior to Girls in the Game, Rose endured horrendous bullying and loneliness. Now she holds her head high. As an experienced counselor, she leads a group of younger campers from activity to activity, letting them know they’re special and using her special knack to seek out and support the shyer girls. She’s off to college in the fall, but looks me in the eye and tells me, “Don’t worry — I’ll be back. These are MY girls!”

Tamara is seven and this was her first year at camp. She’s a part of the most recent chapter of Girls in the Game. She tells me that she “loves it so much.” And although seven-year-olds typically are not allowed to attend overnight camp, she prepared a very convincing pitch to appeal to the camp director. The verdict? Look for pictures of Tamara as she experiences canoeing, archery and camp fires at overnight camp with over 100 other girls. You’ve got to that love she’s already learning how to be an advocate for herself!

The next chapter of Girls in the Game is being written now. All of us have a chance to be a part of something really special in a way that works for each of us. The leadership team – Meghan, Dawn, Beth and so many more are forces for change. They listen to the girls, connect with donors and volunteers, and then find ways make it happen. And it’s working; more and more girls in Chicago and beyond have the same opportunity that the first small group of girls did.

That week it all came together in a way that was loud and clear. One person’s dream has become a life-changing reality for thousands. Thousands who are now dreaming together so the next generation of girls know the importance of their own words. So they can see firsthand what can happen when people from diverse backgrounds speak up in a collective voice so girls everywhere are safe, valued and given the chance to make their own dreams a reality.

Amy Skeen is currently an Associate Professor of Social Work at Concordia University. From April 1999 through June 2015, she served as the Executive Director of Girls in the Game, leading the organization through years of growth and impacting the lives of thousands of girls and families with her work.

Advertisements

Throwback Month: Empowering Women

At Girls in the Game, August is our “Throwback Month” to tell stories of alumnae, dig through old photos of our programs and see how far we’ve come. As we prepare for our new logo launch next month, we are excited to share where we started and how we continue to adapt to the needs’ of our girls and their communities. Follow our stories on FacebookTwitter Instagram!

Name: Taara King
Occupation:
Advertising Sales & Account Management, Facebook
Three Words that Describe Girls in the Game: 
Empowering. Fun. Leadership.

When did you start Girls in the Game? And why?  I started at Girls in the Game when I was 15-years-old. It was my first job–I was a Summer Camp Counselor. What attracted me to Girls in the Game was its mission: women empowerment.

What was your favorite part of being in Girls in the Game?  My favorite part was interacting with young girls and inspiring them. Between Varsity Squad (now known as Teen Squad) and Summer Camp, Girls in the Game allowed me to meet young girls from all walks of life. My most fulfilling moment was encouraging them to be all they can be and developing them to be young leaders. For the Summer Camp program, it was really fulfilling because I had the opportunity to bond with the girls for an extended period of time. Seeing their transformation and self-improvement was wonderful. 

Why do you think Girls in the Game is important for girls in Chicago?  It’s important for every girl to discover her inner strength and have the courage to lead. With Chicago being the 3rd largest city in the nation, it’s easy to feel like you don’t have a voice or get lost in the crowd. Girls in the Game not only helps girls build their confidence so they can become gamechangers, but also emphasizes the importance of sisterhood. It’s important for young girls to see women supporting women. It’s important to teach them early that the girl next to them is not their competition but rather their teammate. 

Taara
Taara celebrating her new job at Facebook.

How has Girls in the Game impacted your time in college and since college graduation?  One of my passion points is women empowerment. Since Girls in the Game, I’ve been able to keep that passion alive in my personal endeavors. I have my own women empowerment blog and I’ve done several speaking engagements encouraging women.   

What is your current profession and future goals for your career?  I currently work at Facebook doing advertising sales & account management for Global Brands. I am in love with my job and would love to shift my focus to non-US markets in the next few years. I’ve always had a desire to live a global lifestyle and do international work.


Have you heard? We’re moving our blog to Medium to engage with more supporters. Start following our new blog, and we will still arrive in your inbox once a week!

Throwback Month: Discovering Chicago’s Diversity

At Girls in the Game, August is our “Throwback Month” to tell stories of alumnae, dig through old photos of our programs and see how far we’ve come. As we prepare for our new logo launch next month, we are excited to share where we started and how we continue to adapt to the needs’ of our girls and their communities. Follow our stories on FacebookTwitter Instagram!

Name: Mily Garcia
Occupation: 
Incoming college freshman
Three Words that Describe Girls in the Game:
Empowering. Life-changing. Supportive.

When did you start Girls in the Game? And why?
I joined Girls in the Game my sophomore year of high school after it was introduced to me by a current participant. For two years I had enrolled in Latino based organizations and Girls in the Game sounded like the perfect milestone to broaden my horizons on diversity since it promoted the unity of all Chicagoland areas. Growing up in a suburb neighboring the city, I always wished to join an organization based in Chicago but requirements were often limiting. Girls in the Game allowed me to participate with welcoming arms and I knew I would be both giving to our community, but also receiving support to develop a healthy lifestyle along with a better understanding of my purpose in higher education.

What is your favorite part of being in Girls in the Game?
Girls in the Game is the perfect environment to give and receive. We give back by hosting events that teach young girls about health, leadership and character through the act of sports. We are aware that for girls in the city, it is important to have a safe environment in which to practice this lifestyle. Because of that, we make sure we host events all over Chicago. Mutually, Teen Squad members receive tremendous support from the program by being provided with events that enhance our understanding in different career fields and receiving scholarship money for the workshops we lead.

mily 2
Mily with other coaches at Girls in the Game.

Why do you think Girls in the Game is important for girls in Chicago?
Girls who live in the city are aware of the flaws found within its borders. Sometimes, it is difficult to find the confidence to break the stereotypes that tell us it is harder for a girl to beat the odds. Girls in the Game serves as proof that it can be done. For over two decades it has reached out to young girls, welcoming anyone who wants to join and has taught us to cultivate the perfect character needed to succeed despite any struggles. We emphasize the importance of both physical and mental health. The program’s design allows women to teach young girls based on experience, giving us that confidence we thought was so hard to find.

How has Girls in the Game impacted your time in high school?
Because of Girls in the Game, I have had the gift to take part in activities outside of my community. I always lacked confidence in networking because I believed that I did not have a well-rounded character. Through Girls in the Game, I have met people with completely different life stories than me. My empathy for others has increased and I have grown an interest in seeking as many challenges as possible. This program has helped me confront my fear for uncertainty, while leading me to discover what I wish to aspire in higher education.

What are your goals for college and for your career?
After high school, I have chosen to attend my community college to take my general education. After, I will transfer to Northwestern University to pursue an education in Finance and Sociology. I plan to work in Urban Development and have an impact in the social and economic freedoms needed for positive development in a city like Chicago. I have realized that our environments play an important role in our thought process that comes to shape the decisions we make. As well,Girls in the Game has inspired me to continue participating in organizations throughout college, as well as creating the networks that will assist me in reaching my goals.

Throwback Month: Becoming a Leader Without Limits

At Girls in the Game, August is our “Throwback Month” to tell stories of alumnae, dig through old photos of our programs and see how far we’ve come. As we prepare for our new logo launch next month, we are excited to share where we started and how we continue to adapt to the needs’ of our girls and their communities. Follow our stories on FacebookTwitter Instagram!

Name: Imani Monroe
Occupation:
Student and Head Advising Fellow for Matriculate at Howard University
Three Words that Describe Girls in the Game: 
Unique. Influential. Extraordinary.

When did you start Girls in the Game? And Why?

I started Girls in the Game when I was about 11-years-old. At that time Girls in the Game had a lacrosse program during the school year where each weekend we would take the bus up to Northwestern University and the women’s lacrosse team would teach us how to play lacrosse. This is the program that initiated my love for Girls in the Game. That following summer I became a participant in Summer Camp. After that, when I began high school I joined Teen Squad and stayed a member throughout my high school career. During the summers after my junior and senior years of high school, I worked as a Junior Counselor for Summer Camp.

Imani Summer Camp
Imani as a Junior Counselor at Summer Camp (far right).

Why do you think Girls in the Game is important for girls in Chicago?

I think that Girls in the Game is especially important for girls in Chicago because of all the negativity and violence that surrounds young people in the city. I look at Girls in the Game as being a home away from home for girls, somewhere where you can feel safe and at peace.

Girls in the Game shows girls that there is no limit to what they can do and accomplish in life. Girls in the Game gives girls opportunities that they wouldn’t receive at their schools or in other programs. As a black girl from the South Side of Chicago, I believe that without Girls in the Game I would have never been introduced to sports such as lacrosse and rugby, or gotten the chance to sit down with CEOs from top companies with Teen Squad. One of the most important things Girls in the Game does is teach girls to be comfortable with and respect themselves.

How has Girls in the Game impacted your time in college?

When my leadership skills are recognized, I always mention that I gained these skills from Girls in the Game. When I started Girls in the Game, I was quiet and reserved and I truly believe that the different activities and lessons from Girls in the Game helped me to come out of my shell and be assertive.

I believe that Girls in the Game coaches saw potential in me and pushed me to be a leader. I used to have a feeling of not being good enough or qualified enough, and oftentimes I doubted myself, but Girls in the Game taught me to step outside of my comfort zone. I was a Junior Counselor at Summer Camp for two years at Girls in the Game, meaning I was partially responsible for a group of young girls. I had no choice but to be a leader and an example for these young girls.

Girls in the Game is a part of the reason why I chose to take a lead role on my campus for a national nonprofit called Matriculate. Matriculate’s goal is to help low-income, high-achieving high school students get to college by having college students walk them through every step of the college application process. I serve as the Head Advising Fellow on Howard’s campus where I am not only an adviser for high school students, but I also manage a cohort of 30 Howard students and train them on the necessary curriculum to serve their high school students.

Imani Matriculate
Imani at a training in New York for Matriculate.

This opportunity alone has opened so many doors for me, in the past six months I’ve been to LA and New York City, all expenses paid, to participate in conferences and trainings because of my work with Matriculate. Without testing out my leadership skills at Girls in the Game, I don’t think that I would have applied to take this big role on, and I wouldn’t have this wonderful experience.

What are your goals for college and for your career? 

I am currently a rising senior, biology major and chemistry minor, at Howard University with plans on attending medical school and becoming a pediatrician. I’m currently trying to make the most of my college career by involving myself in programs and organizations that have values that are important to me and that will prepare me for my life after undergrad. I’ve always had a love for science and a passion for working with younger children, which is why I want to be a pediatrician. Once I become a pediatrician, I plan on opening a health clinic in Chicago in an area that needs it most.

Throwback Month: A Camper’s Story

At Girls in the Game, August is our “Throwback Month” to tell stories of alumnae, dig through old photos of our programs and see how far we’ve come. As we prepare for our new logo launch next month, we are excited to share where we started and how we continue to adapt to the needs’ of our girls and their communities. Follow our stories on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram!

Name: Nichole Witter-Graham
Occupation: Clinical Coordinator for Lemak Health
Three Words that Describe Girls in the Game: Encourage. Empower. Leadership.

 

When did you start Girls in the Game? 

I started Girls in the Game when I was an 8-year-old camper. My mother had seen flyers around the neighborhood for an all-girls camp. She was so thrilled that there was an organization out there geared toward empowering young girls.

What was your favorite part of being in Girls in the Game?

I would say my favorite part about Girls in the Game is the environment. It felt so freeing to be in a space where I could be my own! I felt that I had so many amazing older girls and young women to look up to that I could aspire to be one day.

Why do you think Girls in the Game is important for girls in Chicago?

I think Girls in the Game is important in Chicago because it gives girls a safe space to be who they want to be. In our world today there is so much negativity, body shaming and so-called standards on “how to be.” I think young woman who are enduring this in our generation need a place that tells us each and everyday that we are okay to be ourselves, and that we are enough to make a difference in ourselves

How has Girls in the Game impacted your time in college and since college graduation?

Girls in the Game has helped me to remember that all things are possible if you believe in yourself. I was able to carry this with me through college and into my transition after undergrad. Since then I have continued to remember the strong women leaders I met in my life and how I can become one of them. This could not have been accomplished if it wasn’t for the positive exposure Girls in the Game shared with me!

What is your current profession and future goals for your career?

I am the Clinical Coordinator for Lemak Health in Prattville, AL. My career goal is to get back into Athletic Training in a collegiate setting. I would like to move back to Chicago to be able to help impact the lives around me in an athletic and leadership way.

 

 

Sneak Peek: Leader to Leader Interviews with Summer Squad by Bridget Murphy

Sports, health and leadership are the pillars upon which Girls in the Game is founded, but of the three, leadership can be the most ambiguous. At Summer Squad this year, leadership has manifested itself in confidence and curiosity. Both of these traits were on full display at our Leader to Leader interviews this past month.

Leader to Leader interviews are when Summer Squad is invited to visit a company and interview several of their employees. The teens lead the program, which includes introduction activities, an ice breaker and a panel discussion where the teens ask questions about the company and the day-to-day realities of the working world.

Because the teens lead the programs at these different worksites, participating in a Leader to Leader requires confidence not only in oneself, but also the Summer Squad program and one’s peers. The roles of leading each portion are divided between teen participants, and everyone has the chance to contribute to the program in some way.

The final part of the Leader to Leader interview is the panel discussion in which the teens ask questions of the leaders at the company they are visiting. This is where curiosity becomes a crucial part of leadership. At the Leader to Leader I observed at United Airlines, the questions started during lunch, where the teens asked about internship opportunities and ways to get involved with United. This continued into the panel discussion, where there was not a break in questions until we had to catch our bus home!

The questions ranged from what a typical day at United looks like, to what internship opportunities were available to specifics about the panelists’ positions, including the procedure for responding to an international terrorist attack. This curiosity to pursue opportunities for the future, and truly explore what those opportunities would mean on an individual level, show ownership over the Leader to Leader experience as well as drive to pursue novel career options.

WP_20170712_12_24_42_Pro
Summer Squad teens with the United Airlines panelists at their interview.

The teens talked to a few of the tens of thousands of United employees, including people involved in everything from the catering of food on planes to those in charge of responses to cyber-attacks. The group was even able to see where the day-to-day operations take place for planes traveling in and out of O’Hare Airport.

In addition to United, our first round of Leader to Leaders took teens to Capital One and UnitedHealthcare, where each group could conduct its interviews as well as take a tour of the facilities. More importantly, teens were given the opportunity to network while exploring future career paths.

At UnitedHealthcare, Summer Squad teens learned about the healthcare field and exciting innovations for the future. UnitedHealthcare employees spoke of the possibility of 3D printing and the impact it could have on prescription distribution. This Leader to Leader opportunity opened eyes to careers in healthcare as well as atypical options for entrepreneurs and inventors.

IMG_6404
Teens participate in an empathy training at UnitedHealthcare, learning how arthritis or other joint conditions can make simple tasks like taking medication in child-proof bottles very difficult for elderly patients.

The Capital One visit provided a sneak peek into the financial world. Members of Summer Squad receive a stipend for their time spent with Girls in the Game. For some, this is their first substantial paycheck, and the Leader to Leader gave insight into the world of credit and how money is spent.

The teens will participate in three Leader to Leaders over the course of their summer with Girls in the Game, only providing more opportunities for growth in confidence, curiosity and overall leadership skills.

 

Growing Up at Summer Camp by Iris Krandel

Sunscreen. Just the smell of it takes me back to my favorite time of the year…summer camp! From boat rides on the lake to hikes through the trails to dance parties in the dining hall, the memories are endless. Spending 13 summers at overnight camp lead me to no understanding of what it meant to celebrate the 4th of July at a BBQ or taking a big family vacation when my sisters and I were all out of school.

All I knew was that the second I got home from camp the countdown began again until that time of year rolled around. Being at camp was like going to a land far far away, and anyone who didn’t experience that just could not understand what they were missing. Lucky for you, I am going to share that with you today.  Not only did I get to try new things at camp, but I learned and grew in ways my parents and I had never imagined.

Iris young camper
Iris with her fellow campers & counselors in her early years of camp.

I was a weird kid. I don’t think there is a better way to put it. I could talk to pretty much anyone or anything that would listen. Anyone who knew me well always wondered what would come out of my mouth next. On top of that I had a questionable sense of style. Needless to say, I pushed the boundaries on what could be worn in public as “real clothes.” I rocked those flannel pajama pants and crocs during all hours of the day. I never felt discouraged from expressing myself, but I definitely did not feel like I ever fit in with my peers.

I spent so much time comparing myself to everyone around me (sometimes I still do). That is until I went to camp. At camp, you could be whoever you wanted to be, you could dress however you wanted to dress, and everyone belonged. The louder your voice the better your team did during color wars, the crazier your style the more people wanted to wear your clothes, and the more you invested in camp the more you got out of it. Camp did not make me feel like I had to fit in, it made me realize that it’s better to stand out.

After spending eight years as a camper, I became a counselor at the magical place that made me the person I am today. It was the most exciting time in my life because I finally had the opportunity to impact campers the same way camp had impacted me. I can so vividly remember seeing the first cars and buses roll into camp, and being so scared that I was about to take the lives of campers into my own hands for the next month. That anxious feeling soon turned into excitement.

The energy of the campers that first day was unreal, and I realized that the kids were just so thrilled to be there that nothing else mattered. I spent the next five summers growing as a staff member and becoming a supervisor for my last two years at camp. That meant teaching new staff members how to leave their mark on camp, and give campers the same experiences that many of the counselors had gotten out of camp.

Iris Counselors
Iris having fun with her fellow camp counselors.

This will be my first summer away from the summer camp I grew up at, but that does not mean I will stop the work I have started. I just have a new opportunity to change the lives of girls this summer at Girls in the Game. I hope that all those girls who are showing up on the first day unsure of who they are and where they are leave camp on the last day feeling confident in themselves. I want them to be confident about their bodies, confident about their minds, and confident that they can do whatever they want if they put everything they have into camp. It is not about how good everyone else is at the sport, how much someone might know about healthy eating, or how many friends everyone else has, it’s about being better than you were the day before and reaching your own goals.