Masterpiece by Mary Banker

I have had a lot of different jobs and careers. My resume is a bit all over the place. Why am I admitting this? Because the experience and independent consultant work I have done and all the different areas where I have worked in have provided me with enriching professional development and a network only that type of experience could create. In addition this type of background has given me a lot of comparison abilities.

Masterpiece1At Girls in the Game we talk a lot about serving the whole girl for her whole life but
I’d like to show you the broader brush strokes that are made each day, outside of serving the girls directly. What you see and read about is the main painting, but what about the background scene, the parts of the painting that you need to make the whole picture?

Every day when I enter our offices, which are rent free by the way because of our partnership with the Park District, my co-workers are at their computers with their heads down, focused and on a mission. Every single day. We are a well-oiled machine of several intricate and necessary parts. Remember when I said that I’ve worked in many offices and with a lot of different staffs? There is something special about Girls in the Game. Yes it is the mission and we exist to serve the girls but that is all made possible because of the people at Girls in the Game.

Our management team has set the tone for our full-time staff. The tone is one of professional development, communication, growing, and promoting entry and mid-level staff. Our President recognizes talent and sees each member of our staff’s potential. This mind-set and environment creates pride, commitment, loyalty and a cohesive unit that works as a team toward a common goal, changing the lives of girls.

As I learned the processes at Girls in the Game for our new interns, year of service staff and volunteers, the message is clear- grow each person and utilize their strengths. Sadly this isn’t always the case or attitude when organizations or companies have interns or volunteer staff. I have watched our full time staff prepare, train and manage these staff members. I have been in meetings where we are encouraged repeatedly to do performance reviews, give challenging assignments and to grow these positions. To me this is the trickle-down effect. We do not only grow and develop girls, we grow and develop young staff and graduate students and new college graduates.

Our President wouldn’t have us stop there though. We had a meeting yesterday as we discussed the research we have done about expanding the Girls in the Game program nationally. I took a moment to mention my conversation with our Programs Director to our President. I said that this is a talented staff, the A team or Varsity Squad if you will and the Program Director agreed. We are all on the same page, heads down, focused, to make our program better, all committed to growing and all recognizing that it starts with our staff. Our President also interjected that as we expand it is a great opportunity to promote and develop from within our intelligent, motivated and committed staff. This mindset starts at the top and makes its way throughout our organization and directly affects the girls we work with daily inside of our program. It is true that a company or organization is only as good or strong as their human talent.

Here is a quick rundown of our amazing *full-time staff from my perspective;

Meghan; loves to write, is a life-long learner, good listener, promotes and encourages internal staff, empowers each staff member at Girls in the Game, creates an environment to learn and also challenges people so they can get uncomfortable and grow

Dawn; competitive, driven, she is a woman of routine, and a master of events and partnerships, she is amazing at on-boarding new staff and making short term staff feel included and appreciated, you need a question answered, Dawn is your person.

Alia; she is the grant master, takes incredible notes and keeps herself organized, always provides an ear for new ideas and is open to growth, her stories and smile is a light in our office, and she is always dressed for any professional meeting that may arise

Jess; she hit the ground running as our newest staff member, she is a great writer, has great work ethic, communicates well and has gotten involved in outside opportunities like the Sears 5K, interviewing Teens for Teen Squad and took on an advisory board event right off the bat

Sandi; she is a quiet storm of knowledge, she is organized, insightful, invests time in learning in order to share the knowledge with the rest of the staff to make our machine run even more efficiently, she is invested, loyal and always available to train, guide and help

Shelley; she is a map expert, is always available for questions and help, she would rather stay late to do her own work than see her teammates struggle with something, she also creates an inclusive work environment

Beth; she is the positive, incredible listener, can work with any type of personality, compassionate, driven by our mission and is always looking for ways to make our programs better

Jessica; when she walks in a room you naturally are in a better mood, she is positive, smart, driven and loves what she does, her smile is contagious and so is her positive outlook

Margaret; this woman is organized, intentional and driven by serving the girls in the Teen Squad program, she is articulate and is always ready to collaborate to keep our programs in growth mode

Ericka; she has a gift of speech, she is grateful and possesses the gift of making others feel appreciated, she is driven and displays the definition of grit, she is loyal and passionate about her work

Katherine; she is active in every way, she reads our blog, uses our social media, supports by providing pictures and stories of the work that is being done at the sites so those of us who are not in direct contact with the girls get to experience the beauty of the work we are doing, she is kind, has a gentle demeanor but has a confident voice

Me; competitive, driven and grateful to be able to work with such fine, intelligent women toward an incredible mission (also I think I’m funny)

Masterpiece2Inspired yet? You should be, I hope you each find yourself in a place where your talents, differences and goals are being utilized and grown. We can do so much more together, what may be a painting becomes a masterpiece when you look at every single part that is necessary to create all the beauty that is seen.

To learn more visit our website.

*During the year our Year of Service staff, Interns, University Coordinators and Volunteers will be highlighted…stay tuned to hear more about these incredible people and their impact on girls in Chicago, Bloomington and Baltimore.


A Different Look at Barbie by Meghan Morgan

A Girls in the Game staff member came across this video last week and forwarded it along to a few of us. Check it out.

The general reaction was, “Wow, that’s a cool video. Too bad it’s for Barbie.”

Poor Barbie.

Sure, she’s got completely unrealistic proportions that may give young girls the wrong ideas about body image. You may also frown upon her lifestyle of excess, with her fancy Dreamhouse and multiple sports cars, always heading off to the beach or shopping with friends. But there’s more to Barbie than meets the eye.

3032172-slide-s-1-barbieentrebillboardv3I’ll admit, I don’t stay too current on the latest Barbie news but I took a few minutes to visit the Barbie website and browsed through the different dolls for sale. Sure, there were a lot of Fashionista Barbies but there were also multiple Eye Doctor Barbies, a Film Director Barbie, a Scientist Barbie and a Chef Barbie. So if Mattel is trying to send the message that Barbie can be anything she wants to be, they’re backing that up with their product offerings.

It made me take a second look at how easily my co-workers and I dismissed the well-done video that sends a great message to young girls, simply because it came from Barbie. Were we being prejudicial toward Barbie simply because of her body type and tendencies toward fashion and excess? Was that fair?

At Girls in the Game, we teach girls about diversity. We lead activities that celebrate both similarities and differences and help the girls explore what makes them unique and special. We talk about acceptance and supporting each other. I like to think that we practice those same lessons in our own workplace. Every single person on the Girls in the Game team works hard and contributes something valuable and significant to the work we do and we strive to create a culture of respect and cooperation.

I hope this message that we teach and practice stays with the girls in our programs. I hope they grow up to be the kind of women that support other women. I hope their time with Girls in the Game teaches them that women are stronger together and that it’s always better to lift somebody up rather than tear them down.

Keeping this in mind, I think it’s only fair to give Barbie that same respect and acknowledge the strong message her video sends. So if you haven’t yet, take a minute to watch the video and appreciate the message it sends to young girls – that they can be whatever they want to be and their only limit is their own imagination. And the right shoes. Just kidding.

Intrinsic Value by Anni Rayas

Today, we have a blog from Anni Rayas, one of our After School Coordinators who coaches at our Humboldt Park sites.


This is now my fifth week of coaching and the end of my second month here at Girls in the Game. Coordinating for Humboldt Park has been, thus far, an interesting and rewarding learning experience, and it is intriguing to see how schools that are so close to each other in proximity still have such a wide variety of students and school culture.

Regardless of where they are from, however, many of the girls I work with still share the same struggles. I coach at five different sites and at each one have heard the girls talk about coping with cliques and exclusion, family issues, and the dissonance of beauty and their bodies, among other things. It was a stunning and sad moment to hear a girl at one of my elementary schools say in response to a friend’s compliment, “I dunno. My fat is sticking out today.” And I was surprised to remember exactly what that felt like. I was 11 when I first realized I even had a body, and I quickly learned to hate it as a young girl. I saw a younger variation of myself reflected in that moment, and it hurt.

The patterns we live in are cyclical and systemic: certain childhood experiences of mine played out similarly in the girl I coached that day. She assumed parts of this belief about body image—that she’s not enough as she is—just as countless of her peers across Chicago have done. It’s hard growing up a girl even now, despite the steps forward we’ve made. I wish I could have had someone there to redirect me in that moment when I was younger, to help me circumvent self-image issues that I had to later unlearn on my own.

But that’s why I do what I do now. Everything we work toward here at Girls in the Game is about breaking those cycles. We model strength and respect, openness and cooperation, self-appreciation and commitment. We know our programs work—our Loyola evaluation backs it up. But it’s those teaching moments where the magic happens. Coaching will be frustrating and test your patience at times, but it makes every bit worthwhile to know we make a difference in favor of the girls we serve.

As for the girl that day, I took a moment to ask her about what she said. We talked briefly about self-respect and seeing value beyond how someone looks before she jumped back into play. I don’t think she’ll remember anything specific that we talked about years down the road, and that’s okay. But I hope she remembers later how it felt to hear that someone believed in her and to know that she has so much more to offer beyond an appearance. That’s what Girls in the Game is here to emphasize: the intrinsic significance of every girl. This is why we do what we do.

Reprogramming by Jess Larson and Mary Banker

I do a lot of Googling for my job in Development, especially for our Twitter and Facebook accounts. I’m always on the lookout for inspirational pictures or quotes from women in sports to inspire our staff, supporters, and girls. When I find a great quote or picture from a powerful female athlete it motivates me to do my best work every day.

And, inevitably, when I see the top listed search results it also exposes the barrage of negative messages girls and women experience daily in regards to their bodies and respect for female athletics. I can imagine one of our Girls in the Game participants starting a project for school about female athletes by typing the simple phrase “female athletes” into a search engine. Here’s a sample of what she finds:

“The 50 Hottest Female Trainers”

“Beautiful Female Athletes 2”

“Top 50 Hottest Female Athletes”

“18 Ways to Lose Weight Without Going On A Diet”

“100 Most Famous Hotties in Sports”

And the worst offender I found so far: “Sporty Girls, Sexy Babe, Fit Teens…”

Can you see this girl? Picture her, sitting at the computer, the thoughts running through her head, the comparisons she makes between herself and the images on the screen, and how she feels about herself now. Pretty disturbing isn’t it? Is this really what girls are finding when they search for “female athletes”? Of course, ll these posts include revealing pictures of photo shopped women just to drive the point home that appearance is more important than athletic ability. It’s even more difficult to find coverage of women of color in sports beyond just Venus or Serena Williams (no disrespect meant to the queens of the tennis court).

It breaks my heart to think of our girls wanting to learn more about their role models in sports and finding these images instead. It is also no secret that the media places a lot of value on a woman’s appearance. Female athletes are some of the few strong women depicted in the media with the potential to be examples of healthy body image, but instead of focusing on the athlete, her abilities, or her health, the media creates lists of “hotties”.

I can’t even blame Google or Pinterest for their search results. After all, the algorithms used in these search engines look at what sites past searchers have clicked on when using the same key words. Meaning that the reason so many vulgar sites show up under “female athletes” is because that is exactly what most people are looking for when they Google this phrase.

There isn’t a simple, easy solution to the problem of how our society sees women and “female athletes”, but we can teach our girls to know better by building a strong foundation of self-worth and self-esteem. And that’s exactly what Girls in the Game does every day. Our curriculum goes beyond learning how to kick a soccer ball; Girls in the Game uses sports as a vehicle to teach girls about strength, confidence, and grit. We give them great role models in their coaches and put them in the path of strong female leaders in business through our Leader to Leader interviews. We teach them that health is more than weight or appearance; instead it is a lifestyle that is reflected in every aspect of their lives.

We might not be able to single-handedly protect girls and women from the messages bombarding them on a daily basis, but we can empower girls to be strong, confident, and determined to combat the acceptance of these messages. Can you see her? Sitting at the computer seeing the word, “hottie”, and this time knowing that the woman staring back at her from the screen is not defined by such a narrow, vapid term. Girls in the Game is committed to reprogramming what defines a woman’s worth, one girl at a time, one day at a time. We serve the whole girl for her whole life.

A young woman using a laptop on the floor

5 Steps to Becoming a More Empowered You in the New Year by Jen Groover

This Thursday, we have a guest post from entrepreneur Jen Groover.  And while it’s not quite New Year, who doesn’t need help becoming more empowered and sticking with our resolutions every day of the year?

“Each year, people start off the New Year with a resolution that’s probably similar to one made in previous years. And every January, there’s a new commitment to making it really work this year.

Here’s the problem: People who make these “renewed” resolutions aren’t really committed to changing who they are on the inside. So these resolutions — whether it’s getting in shape or growing a network or improving productivity — become simply a test of willpower.

What needs to happen instead is a true change of perspective: Who you are, why you are here and what life really means to you.

The truth is, once you decide to look at yourself in the mirror every day and commit to holding yourself accountable to be the “best you” you can be, then all of your goals and resolutions become more easily attainable. That’s because the real change is happening from within. The self-sabotaging habits begin to diminish and confidence, self-esteem and self-worth increases.

In life we have control of one thing only — our perspective. No matter what happens, you can train yourself to see the good or lesson in everything that is happening around you. This can make your feel empowered instead of powerless in many circumstances.

As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve adopted these mantras in order to create a more positive perspective, both professionally and personally. By following them, you can take control of your life and get empowered to live the life you truly desire.

1. “Someday is Today.” Stop procrastinating and creating excuses for why you can’t have what you want. Take control. Announce to yourself “someday is today” every day, to seize the day and eradicate an excuse mentality.

2.”Have More Fear of Regret Than Failure.” Remind yourself that the feeling of regret is so much worse than trying something (even if it doesn’t work out) and living with no regrets. Realize fear is an illusion that holds you back. By doing so, you will set yourself free to live to your fullest potential.

3. “I Only Have Good Days.” Remember, the only thing in the world we have control over is our perspective. You can choose to adopt a consistently positive perspective and find the good in everything. Or you can be negative, and attract more negative things into your life. The mantra “I only have good days” reminds you to see the positive for a better outcome.

4. “Opportunities Lie Within Every Obstacle.” It can be tough to dig deep and find the positive, especially when confronted by challenges. But if you choose the positive, you will find the opportunity and nuggets of wisdom in every obstacle that presents itself in your life.

5. “Live With Passion and Purpose.” Stop asking “what should I be doing” and start understanding “who you want to be.” What do you want your legacy to be? As you reflect, you will begin to understand your purpose. That will make it easier to live with more passion and stay further away from needless and draining distractions or drama. Identifying your purpose and living with passion is the most authentic way to be empowered all day, every day.

Keep these mantra’s handy. Perhaps post them on a mirror or wall so that you will be reminded how to “mentally reset” when you fall into old patterns and perspectives that can sabotage your best efforts. Empower yourself to have a happier, more fulfilling, successful life. Then this year really can be THE year to achieve your goals and live the life you desire.”

At Girls in the Game, we’re always striving to grow and learn, no matter the season. These five steps are strategies we employ in both our overall goals and in the tiny, mundane tasks that make up the day-to-day of our lives.

You can see the original post here:


Strong Girls = Strong World by Jess Larson

So what exactly is this Day of the Girl that’s all over social media? It originally began back in 2011 when the UN declared October 11th to be the International Day of the Girl Child in order “to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.” By doing this, the UN acknowledged that girls encounter more obstacles in pursuing a healthy, safe, and educated life than almost any other population in the world, an idea we are very familiar with here at Girls in the Game.

Organizations across the globe from the UN and the WHO to the World Bank have also found that when we support girls that effect spills over into the community around them; educated, empowered girls become agents for change, the key to breaking cycles of poverty and violence. According to The Girl Effect, an organization that works to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, “If every Ethiopian girl finished school, it would add almost US $4 billion to the country’s economy.”  Furthermore, “If adolescent pregnancy was delayed in India, it would add US $383 billion in potential lifetime income.” See what I mean about powerful agents for change?

In the end, it comes down to this simple idea: strong girls make a strong world.

So what can we do in our corner of Chicago? Are these issues really important in the modern US? Of course they are! While girls in the US don’t always face problems like child marriage, they are still at a huge disadvantage to their male peers, especially when it comes to access to sports and physical education.

A recent report on US high schools found that although schools had increased the opportunities for girls’ participation in sports after the passing of Title IX, that progress slowed significantly after 2000, especially in urban areas. Appropriately, the title of this report was “Progress Without Equality”, an elegant way to summarize the state of girls’ sports in the US today.

Girls in the Game passionately believes that access to sports and health education is a fundamental right for all girls. Our programs empower the whole girl by building girls’ confidence, exposing them to a wide variety of sports, and incorporating health and leadership topics. And we know it’s working. According to our 2014-2015 After School evaluation, a staggering 83 percent of our girls demonstrated significant increases in grit or determination, along with improvements in self-worth and sense of belonging. These are strengths that will help carry them through their education and into adulthood.

Not only are our girls gaining grit, but they are also becoming agents for change in their communities. Consider the issue of violence in Chicago. After one season with Girls in the Game, our teens were 71 percent less likely to support aggressive conflict resolution..

So celebrate the Day of the Girl with us.  We are proud to be part of the international movement to protect and promote the rights of girls all across the world.  After all strong girls = strong Chicago, and strong girls = strong world.b76197e48b458e3e74d67aa2d28c68d8

Athletes or Lady Athletes? by Meghan Morgan

Last weekend I went to my niece Amy’s basketball game. Amy is in 8th grade and plays for the same school that I attended. We’re both proud Bobcats and I enjoy cheering on her team. This was an away game for her and it happened to be the other school’s homecoming, which is an especially big deal for the 8th graders of the host school. They had music and announced each of the players as they came on to the floor. The gym had been decorated and I noticed they had cut-outs of the jerseys of each of the eighth grade players. Then I read what each jersey said and my heart sank.

Along with the last name of each player, the jersey included the team name, Lady Giants. Apparently, we’re to assume that all Giants are male, unless otherwise stated. Remember, this was last weekend. It’s 2015 and we’re still distinguishing girls’ sports teams as the “Ladies” version of the boys’ teams.

Fortunately the jerseys the players wore didn’t include the “lady” designation, so I assume it’s not a commonly held belief of the school, but rather the misguided efforts of a few people who volunteered their time and energy to decorate the gym for the kids and who are unaware of the message their words send.

The game was close throughout. The lead changed back and forth and no team ever held more than a four point lead. All the girls played hard and the referees laid off their whistles and let them play. Despite that, both teams were over their allotted number of fouls which meant each foul called sent somebody to the line.

These girls were tough, and they were good players. They played with intensity and passion and they certainly weren’t concerned with appearing ladylike on the court. I was glad to see that. The Lady Giants apparently didn’t get the memo that they weren’t the same as regular Giants. I was glad to see that.

But by displaying jerseys behind their bench with the words “Lady Giants” the school sends the message that when they talk about a “basketball team”, we should assume they mean the boys’ team unless otherwise specified. This gives girls the impression that their sports matter less, and that they don’t deserve to be taken quite as seriously as the boys. It also gives both girls and boys the impression that boys are the standard and girls are the exception.

There’s certainly a bigger issue at play here, one that didn’t start in this gym last Saturday afternoon. Women’s sports aren’t represented in the media enough, or nearly at all. But even the NCAA designates their teams as Men’s Basketball and Women’s Basketball, not Basketball and Ladies Basketball.

Our words, and the messages they send, matter. It’s up to all of us to make sure that girls aren’t being told, whether through words or other actions, that their sports and the things they do don’t matter as much as the boys. That’s why programs like Girls in the Game are so important. At Girls in the Game, we don’t need to distinguish between genders because it’s all girls, and by design, girls’ needs, girls’ accomplishments and girls’ teams are front and center.

The Bobcats emerged victorious on Saturday, sinking enough free-throws to pull out four points ahead of the Lady Giants and hold onto their lead. I can’t help but wonder if a team of Lady Bobcats would have done the same.