Top 10 Moments of 2015… Or, Not by Jess Larson

Earlier this week I decided to write a blog post on Girls in the Game’s “Top 10 Moments of 2015” to post on New Year’s Eve. It’s been an exciting year for us with lots of changes, new projects and inspiring events. We’ve expanded from Chicago for the first time; our program in Baltimore is growing! We’ve held a myriad of wine tastings, a Youth Triathlon and our annual gala. We’ve celebrated our Loyola Evaluation results. Looking back, 2015 was definitely a rocking year for both girls and staff at Girls in the Game and beyond! The professional sports world at large saw lots of advancements for women in 2015. Serena William’s dominance of tennis, the US Women’s National Team at the World Cup, the Ronda Rousey v. Holly Holm fight, and Jen Welter becoming the first female coach of the NFL are just a few of the moments that made us stand up and cheer.

But when I sat down to think about the Girls in the Game moments that truly mattered this past year, it wasn’t the big stuff that came to mind. Instead, it was those seemingly unimportant moments along the way that captured my imagination.

The moment when a coach encouraged a girl to try lacrosse for the first time during the After School program.

The moment when teammates came together to cheer on the girl lagging behind in a relay race.

The moment that a new friendship blossomed across racial, socioeconomic or neighborhood lines at Summer Camp.

The moment a teen nervously stepped up to lead programming for the first time for the middle school girls.

The moment a girl realized that rugby is her sport. Or golf, or soccer, or dance.

The moment that a girl discovered she has a voice, that her voice is important and that she can advocate for herself.

The moment a girl chose to talk out a conflict with a teammate instead of fighting.

The moment a girl stepped back up to the plate to try again after striking out.

The moment when coaches, girls and volunteers had an honest and fun discussion about the importance of diversity at a Game Day.

All the moments when our girls discovered the strength that they already have inside of themselves.

These small victories, and so many others like them that happen every day at Girls in the Game, are our Top 10 Moments of 2015. We on the Development Team spend so much time working to perfect our events or develop the most effective expansion strategy for Girls in the Game. These big-idea projects allow us to fund our programs and continue to both expand and deepen their reach. When we achieve those unforgettable milestones, we celebrate! But that also can make it easy to lose sight of all the small moments along the way. Although they may not be celebrated or even recognized by anyone else but the girls who experienced them, those small victories are the moments that matter; they are the moments that have truly made a difference in 2015.

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Ripples That Last a Lifetime by Cordelia Grimes

 

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Cordelia & Teen Squad at Leader to Leader Interview (1st row, 2nd from the right)

As I reflect on all of my experiences working with Girls in the Game both as a Teen Squad intern during the 2014-15 school year and then as the part-time Charity Race Team Coordinator, I am continually amazed at the power and scope of Girls in the Game programs. To me, the crux of Girls in the Game programming involves empowering young girls who have frequently been exposed to more challenging experiences than anyone should ever have to witness in their lifetimes and turns those experiences into opportunities that foster resilience for a lifetime.

As I complete my Masters in Social work at Loyola University, with a specialization in Mental Health and a sub-specialization in Inter-professional Practice with At-Risk Youth, I am continually reminded of the findings that came out of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES for short). In addition to my exposure to the study in my classes, it has come up in conversation among Girls in the Game staff and interns as well, probably because of the unfortunate applicability it has to a lot of the youth we work with in programming. Aside from this study discovering how common adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are for children across the US, it also found strong correlations between a child’s exposure to adverse experiences and negative future health and social outcomes, such as depression, substance and alcohol abuse, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, and many more. This means that children and youth that experience traumatic stressors are at a higher risk of negative health outcomes down the road.

Without imposing too much research jargon, it’s safe to say that children and youth that live in some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Chicago, like Englewood, North Lawndale, Humboldt Park, etc., are exposed to a number of potentially adverse experiences. The rates of economic inequality and community violence present in these neighborhoods can leave children and youth vulnerable to experiencing traumatic stressors and create a pathway towards negative health outcomes. Whether the traumatic stressor emerges out of a family conflict, school episode, or community violence, the feelings that surface in the child and/or youth can set the stage for a whole host of negative internal concepts of self-worth, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. Add this development to the fact that young girls are particularly susceptible to concepts of self-worth and self-esteem as expressed through the media and peer groups, and you get a concoction of feelings and emotions that are trying to stabilize themselves into a coherent identity.

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Teen Squad member advocating for Chicago & Teen Service Week

This is one area where Girls in the Game comes in. This is the catalytic moment where a potentially traumatizing experience can be transformed into an opportunity for growth. This is where a sense of community, of belonging, and of positive social networks can change one child or youth from feeling alone, scared, and helpless into one who feels empowered, confident, and resilient. This is where Girls in the Game meets adverse experiences head-on, challenging youth and young leaders to reflect on their environment, who they are, who they want to be, and what they can do to have a positive impact in their community. This is where Girls in the Game creates a space for girls to come together and develop into healthy, empowered, and resilient young women who will, hopefully, continue to throw pebbles into the water and create ripples that other young girls can swim to, hop on board, and travel for a lifetime. This is Girls in the Game.

I Think This Must Be Teamwork by Meghan Morgan

IMG_0055This is the first year that my 3-year-old, Patrick, is really getting into Christmas. He was particularly excited about decorating our tree or “making it fancy” as he described it. When the time came, he brought his little step stool into the living room to expand his reach, and we went to work. He was busy hanging all of the ornaments he liked best front and center while I worked on spreading the rest of them around a bit.

“Mommy?” he said, after a short time. “I think this must be teamwork.”

It was cute, and I agreed with him that yes, it was teamwork. We high-fived and continued to make the tree fancy.

I was thrilled that he recognized the concept of teamwork, of working together to accomplish something. Teamwork is a fairly easy concept when confined to the sports field – passing the ball and aiming for the same goal so that your team succeeds and you win the game. But it’s more important that that same lesson is applied off the field. That’s what really matters.

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Cheering on teammates during the Youth Triathlon

At Girls in the Game, we teach those lessons. Over and over. And it’s not limited to sports. It’s one of the reasons why our programs are integrated, why we would never run a basketball activity without also teaching lessons on health and leadership. We aren’t preparing girls to be strong female athletes. We’re preparing them to be strong females.

We know our program is working when girls perform better in the classroom. When they successfully work on a school project together and when they cheer just as loud for the last girl in the last group of a relay.

Girls in the Game is only able to achieve that success because of teamwork. Our staff, our Board and Advisory, interns and volunteers, parents, donors and participants all work together to ensure that girls grow up strong and confident, ready to lead. Thank you for being part of our team. We hope you and everyone on your team has a winning holiday season.

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Boys in the Game: a Different Voice by Evan Twichell

Today we are sharing (with permission) a portion of an email from Evan Twichell, a former year of service staff member at Girls in the Game. Girls in the Game’s staff is generally made up of women, not because of any requirements on our part but simply because the nature of our mission and our name tend to attract a female staff. However, we value male staff members, volunteers, supporters and coaches that jump in to support our mission to serve girls. Evan’s email is addressed to another male volunteer with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps who is considering Girls in the Game for his placement. He gives perspective on the power of male coaches communicating our mission.

Evan’s email:

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Evan & the Triathlon Team

I was part of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Chicago, and my placement was at Girls in the Game. I enjoyed my time at Girls in the Game and I definitely learned a lot. I was a program specialist so I lead programming with the girls through after school sessions, game days, summer camp, spring clinic, and I coached the Girls in the Game triathlon team in the summer.

I was the only male staff at the time and there were a few challenges being male, but most of the time I was so absorbed in the teaching and planning that I didn’t think about it. At a new school or program I always got a lot of questions about why I was at a place called Girls in the Game if I was boy. To this I usually would say something about how I love coaching, and that I don’t think it’s fair that there are way more sports programs for boys. I would always say girls are awesome at sports, and that’s why I like coaching them. Simple stuff but coming from a male coach teaching all girls it can be powerful.

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One of Evan’s Triathlon Team members (and her horse) preparing for the bike portion of the race.

As soon as I would begin coaching and they saw that I was there for them, focused and confident with what I was doing, the fact that I was male wasn’t a big deal. Most of the staff at Girls in the Game are female, and it’s great that the girls can see women who are confident in sports and in leadership positions, but in a different way you have a lot of power as a male who develops a positive relationship with the girls and tells them they can do sports and be leaders. Often girls don’t have relationships with males who tell them they can do these things. Dating, couples, appearances, and status are a majority of what some of these girls would think about in terms of males, and to break away from those roles is very different from what they are used to.

There were countless times when I was asked by the girls if I was in a relationship, who I thought was cute or attractive (celebrities and even my fellow coaches at Girls in the Game), if I would go on dates with fellow coaches, or they would tell me about their romantic relationships, etc. These can be tricky questions to address as a male in a leadership position at Girls in the Game, but they are amazing learning experiences for the girls if you know how to handle them and can be an example of what healthy relationships can be. I got great training at Girls in the Game for dealing with these situations and others that came up in my position.

The hands on experience at Girls in the Game was amazing. I learned so much more about teaching, working full time, and how much power you can have to make positive changes in someone’s life. I also learned a great deal about myself and what I find meaningful in life. I was given a lot of responsibility and freedom which was definitely a little scary and challenging, but I grew so much from it. It also really opened my eyes to a lot of social justice issues that I hadn’t thought about before.

You can’t go wrong with Girls in the Game!

The Art of Giving Back by Meghan Morgan

This past Saturday, our Development Coordinator Alia and I attended the 2015 Fashion and Arts Humanity Fete. Girls in the Game was nominated for a Humanitarian Award in the Physical Arts category. We would find out if we won at the event.

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A few months earlier, we had learned about our nomination and the event. I had put it on my calendar, and honestly, I hadn’t given it a lot of thought until last week. Then, I spent some time looking at the website, trying to figure out what the event would be like, and how we should dress. It was a Fashion event after all. And we were told there would be a “black carpet”!

I also took some time to learn more about the award for which we were nominated. Nominees fell into seven different categories ranging from Technical Arts to Creative Arts, and included non-profit organizations like ours as well as individuals. The awards are intended to recognize humanitarian efforts related to the arts and working to better Chicago communities.

Of course, I also took a minute to check out our competition. It turns out there was only one other nominee in our category, an individual named Andrea Natay. She sounded familiar, and after a quick search, I learned why. She started the Ditch the Weight and Guns 5K in Englewood, the first-ever closed course race in the community. The event drew 3,000 participants this past year! Girls in the Game does a lot of work in Englewood, and I had heard about the race.20151101_100344

I was impressed. And it started to make a little more sense to me; why we were included in this event, even though our work doesn’t overlap with fashion or the arts. The Arts of Humanity recognizes the strength of humanitarians doing great work, in the same way that Girls in the Game teaches girls to recognize their own strength. We want our girls to grow up to be like Andrea Natay, emerging as leaders and making a difference in their communities. What a great role model.

The event did not disappoint. It was entertaining and fun and the crowd was thrilled to be there. We didn’t win, but not to sound cliché, it really was an honor to be there. I was happy to see Andrea gain the recognition she deserves for her work, and afterwards I congratulated her and we talked about how she could get involved with Girls in the Game. I look forward to making that happen.

Before Saturday, I never would have thought about how Girls in the Game connected with the world of fashion and arts. Now, however, it’s easy to see that it’s not about the industry, but the people working in it. We teach girls they can be whatever they want to be and I hope that some of them end up in the creative world. And I hope they take what they’ve learned at Girls in the Game to inspire them to help others at the same time.

When I Think About Englewood by Kirsten Bryant

When people hear the words Englewood and Chicago together, what do you suppose they think? Perhaps some of the first things people think about are the violence, the crime, and the immense amount of poverty. And because many people have minimal to no personal experience with the neighborhood, these predispositions about the Southside Chicago neighborhood are almost expected. In fact, if someone was to Google search the keywords “Englewood Chicago” they’d find nothing but articles detailing the rising crime rate and escalating violence related to the area.

image5But for someone like me, who not only has lived in the neighborhood but serves the community there, I have a bit of different view of Englewood. For me, when I think about Englewood I think about the untapped creativity, imagination and talent found within the children at the schools there. I think about the resiliency of the people. I think about the want and need for resources and opportunities for the children there. Most prominently, I think about schools like Libby Elementary, one of the Englewood sites for Girls in the Game’s After School programming, and the staff and students at Libby who make my experience with Girls in the Game so fulfilling.

As a coordinator and coach for the site, I have the opportunity to be able to fully understand the culture of the school as well as receive insight into the needs and wants of both staff and the girls there. And from the very beginning, Girls in the Game was welcomed into the school with arms wide open. Mrs. Barerra, the school’s assistant principal, was beyond excited to have after school programming available for their elementary school girls and has been hands on from the very beginning in aiding our efforts to make Girls in the Game After School programming as beneficial for the girls and the school as possible.
Libby has been one of the Englewood sites with the highest attendance rates, and to me, that comes as no surprise. Each week I’m greeted with hugs and dazzling smiles from 22 of the most amazing 3rd-5th grade girls I’ve ever met. Their eagerness to learn is evident in the energy they bring to programming, and the positive impact that programming has had on the girls is undeniable. In the past ten weeks I’ve watched some of the most timid, soft-spoken girls blossom into shining leaders. My co-coach and I have witnessed the strengthening of friendships and bonds between the girls, and per Mrs. Barerra’s testimony, there’s been a significant improvement in behavior from girls that she’d never imagined could happen.

For me, this is what I think about when I think about Englewood. When I hear the Chicago neighborhood mentioned, whether on the news, on the radio, or even in conversation, my mind immediately goes to the amazing girls that I’ve had the honor of serving these past ten weeks. I think about the staff that work tirelessly at the elementary schools to ensure that our girls have every opportunity to advance as leaders at school and in their communities. When I hear people talk about Englewood, I recall the resiliency of the girls that have to deal with a failing school system, neighborhood violence, and poverty yet remain enthusiastic about being leaders and catalysts for positive change.

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Kirsten’s co-coach, Jasmine, and the girls at Liberty being silly with selfies!

And when I think about all these things I’m reminded why Girls in the Game programming is so important. Our afterschool programming provides a safe space for girls to be as creative, as expressive, and as open as they’d like while being engaged in activities that will help further develop them as they become strong leaders. Moreover, Girls in the Game has provided an opportunity for me to fulfill my passion of working with young girls. As a coordinator and coach I’ve learned so much about myself and my community, and I look forward to having the chance to further impact the lives of these young girls and the Englewood community at large.

Size Is Just a Number by Andria

Today we are diverting from our normal blog entries to share the thoughts and artwork of one of our Teen Squad members. Andria recently entered this artwork into the Walgreens Expressions Challenge. We loved her piece so much, we asked her to write a brief blurb about what it means to her! So without further ado, here is Andria’s “Size Is Just a Number”!

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“This drawing is a depiction of my acceptance. It wasn’t until just recently I began accepting who I am, and because of that I want to share my message in body image. Everyone is different, whether that be based off height, size, or race; but that does not cancel out your beauty. Our Andriadifferences are what make an individual unique and beautiful. It is a known fact that the media plays a major role in distorting the meaning of beauty. But I believe that weight shouldn’t be associated with the measure of someone’s value. Size is only a number; be confident in who you are and the greatness that you can accomplish!”

Thank you Andria for creating and sharing this awesome message! All of us at Girls in the Game are so proud of you!