First Impressions

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I’m new to Girls in the Game this year, but am so excited to be a part of this organization. I got matched with Girls in the Game through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), a program that connects young people who want to do a year of service with nonprofits who need them.

Most people who sign up as a service volunteer, do so for one year.  This is my second year and I want to use the leadership skills I’ve developed to help young girls discover their own strengths and talents. I’ve played sports my whole life and know I am the person I am today because of the amazing experiences, teammates and coaches I’ve had. When I read about Girls in the Game I knew this was the place for me to make a positive difference.

To share my experiences and to highlight the difference Girls in the Game is making for girls (and me), I’ve selected Mays Elementary, one of the five schools I’m working with to write about each week. I invite you to “get in the game” with me and the girls and follow our journey over Season One.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, although I walked into the gym on that first day with a huge smile on my face. I learned that Mays Elementary was a Welcoming School, which meant that students from schools that were closed at the end of last year were now enrolled into this school. Could I help all the girls become friends and teammates? I sure was going to try.

I was ready for a challenge, although I didn’t know she’d come in the form of an eighth grader named Nicole. When Nicole entered, or rather stormed into the gym, she caught everyone’s attention. She rolled her eyes when I greeted her, refused to participate in any of our activities and refused to make eye contact with me for the entire 90 minutes – a very long 90 minutes!

What struck me as funny was something about her reminded me of myself when I was a teenager. She acted like she was too cool to be here, but I kept thinking “at least she showed up.” That’s half the battle – showing up. I learned she loved to tell jokes, worked hard to get the attention of the other girls and that she was one of two girls on the flag football team (another sport I loved as a kid and still love today).

Nicole wasn’t the least bit interested in our selected sports/fitness activity: circuit training, and she definitely let me know – many times. And right when I thought I would lose the interest of the entire group, we transitioned to our health topic: personal safety. At first all of the girls joined Nicole in speaking over one another and refusing to listen to the instructions. Finally, during one of the personal safety scenarios it all clicked. We were talking about what to do when confronted with a dangerous situation. “Forget about calling 911 or looking for help”, one girl blurted out, “just get out of there and RUN!” From there the girls shared story after story about how they encountered real life danger, from guns to gangs to dealing with family members faced with violence. They talked about having to look out for themselves and not being able to play outside. Nicole didn’t contribute but she listened and watched me with a look of skepticism. She may have been wondering the very same thing I was, “I am ready for this?”

Coach Miranda

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Teen Squad Workshop

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What was your favorite part of the Teen Squad Workshop? “When I’m with the Teen Coaches!”

This (uncommon) response was from the first Teen Squad Workshop of the year, which was held last Thursday at McGuane Park. As they arrived to prepare before the workshop, the teens were undoubtedly nervous. I don’t blame them! It’s incredibly hard to lead activities to a new group of people, let alone 15 elementary school girls in an after school setting. But the 8 Teen Squad members who attended this workshop carefully planned with their peers on the best way to approach each health, sport, and leadership activity. And in realizing they would be in it together, the nerves seemed to dissipate a little.

The result of all the planning and nervous energy?  A very fun and active afternoon of programming. The teens worked together and relied on each other to help gather equipment, transition to the next activity, work with a girl who needed some extra attention… whatever needed to be done to ensure the group had a great time.

Yet as with doing anything for the first time, the workshop was not without its challenging moments. That’s not unexpected. But what was perhaps surprising was the thoughtful way the teens reflected upon the workshop and identified areas they would like to improve for the next time. They spoke about being clearer with their directions, finding their “Coaching Voice,” and learning different strategies to divide the girls into smaller groups. These are things many adult leaders aren’t able to recognize as areas for improvement, but this group of teenagers was intuitive enough to pick up on the little things they can get better at for the next time.

And there will be a next time, and they will get the chance to become stronger leaders and more effective communicators with each passing workshop. But for all the growth that these teens will experience this year, I can say without a doubt that there will be one constant. Working with the Teen Coaches will continue to be a favorite part of each Teen Squad Workshop.

Until next week,

Coach Jenny

Teenagers

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Teenagers never cease to amaze me. Usually this statement is followed by a terrible story about what horrible thing teenagers are up to now, but I mean it in the most positive way possible. In a culture that constantly talks about the “dangers” of teens it is very easy to get caught up in the mentality that youth ages 13-18 are scary criminals, not to be trusted to make a positive decision with their lives. I’m here to tell you otherwise. My proof? The Girls in the Game Teen Squad.

I’ve been the Teen Programs Manager at Girls in the Game for just over three years, and I have been working with teenagers for 14 years. So I have seen my fair share of teenagers and witnessed some negative but mostly positive behavior choices. But never have I seen teens so dedicated to making a real change in their community than members of the Teen Squad program. These teen girls are trained to lead sports, health, and leadership workshops to younger girls at parks and community centers all throughout Chicago. They volunteer their time on days off of school to lead these workshops, and if getting out of bed early on a day off of school isn’t proof that these girls are dedicated than I challenge most adults to make the same decision.

But beyond simply showing up, the Teen Squad members realize how impactful they are during these workshops. They know what an important role they have in the eyes of the younger girls, and they take their jobs as coaches and role models extremely seriously. During the recent trainings we hosted for the Teen Squad members, they shared their reasons for joining the program. The single most common reason?  They want to make a difference in the lives of girls.

It’s not the typical story about teenagers shared on the 5 o’clock news, but maybe if it was our world would feel a little brighter. I know my life is better off thanks to knowing these amazing teen girls.

I’m excited to be able to share this year’s Teen Squad with you all for the next several weeks, so that you can meet the members and hear about how they are educating girls, adults, and the community as a whole about the importance of making positive, healthy life choices. I hope you walk away each week feeling just as inspired as I do by this group of dedicated young women striving to make a positive change in the lives of others.

Stay tuned for next week’s installment. Happy reading!

Coach Jenny