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.
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.