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?”