A Coach in the Game by Luzhelena Mucino

When I first met Coach Margaret, I didn’t really know what I was walking into, but once I heard about what Girls in the Game and Teen Squad, I was instantly interested. Coming in, I thought I was going to get scholarship money and the chance to work with Girls in the Game, but I didn’t get just that. I had an amazing learning experience and met a variety of incredible female leaders. I even got the opportunity to meet famous female leaders at the Field of Dreams gala and at Leader to Leader Interviews. I wish Girls in the Game was something every girl could be involved in, whether being a coach or one of the participants. I have grown more confident in myself, and I hope that when girls leave the workshops they are more confident too.

Being in Teen Squad, I have had many opportunities I never imagined. I probably would have done fine in life without Girls in the Game. I’m sure I would have figured it out, but I would not be as educated about myself or what I am interested in. I found out that I love teaching, and as a senior on my way to college, it is reassuring to know I actually have a major in mind. I am considering a major in physical education and I hope to not only teach the curriculum, but also provide emotional support for students the way Girls in the Game does for their girls. Girls in the Game has changed me in more ways than I can imagine. Now I take every experience I have as a learning experience, even when I don’t feel like learning. I have discovered that there is always room for improvement and that I am a leader, even when I wasn’t sure about that before. Girls in the Game allowed me to grow into a more positive person and also helped me expand my knowledge. I am proud to say that I will always be a Girl in the Game.  

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Luzy (far right) at a Leader to Leader Interview as a Teen Squad participant

This is what I read on my graduation from Girls in the Game. I meant every part of it, and I am very glad to say, two years later I am still actively working with Girls in the Game. Not only did Girls in the Game give me an amazing support system, but they have kept in contact with me. I am currently coaching with them in conjunction with Coach Across America, and I am now going into my second year of college with a major in Physical Education. At the end of my year of working with Coach Across America and Girls in the Game I will earn a teaching certificate and a scholarship. I would not have known about Coach Across America if it were not for the coaches at Girls in the Game. To think that this all started when I decided to become a member of Teen Squad in my high school lunch room! I feel like I am at home when I work with Girls in the Game. I love the message we send to girls everywhere and how true we are to our message.

In my speech I wrote “I probably would have done fine in life without Girls in the Game, I’m sure I would have figured it out”. This is the one part of my speech I take back; I have gained so much knowledge in myself and the world around me, knowledge through my experiences from working with Girls in the Game that I could not have found anywhere else but here. Girls in the Game does change girls’ lives; I know it does because it has changed mine. Girls in the Game has given me my voice, my strength and my confidence all through having fun and being active in our health and leadership programs. Girls in the Game helped mold me into the person I am today. Just like two years ago I am more than proud to say that I will always be a strong, happy and healthy Girl in the Game.

Breaking the Pattern by Dawn Kobel

I’ve lived in Humboldt Park for a couple of years. I’ve loved the diversity of the neighborhood, the proximity to the park and having a street where neighbors sit on their stoops in the evening, walk up to fences to pet each other’s dogs, help mow lawns for each other in the summer and shovel sidewalks in the winter.

This summer started off mostly normal. It is still Chicago, so naturally there is crime. But near the end of July, it seemed that new faces were showing up on the block every night and criminal activity was picking up quickly. By the end of August, we’d had two full shoot-outs on our street, both on weeknights, both before midnight. One of them took out a window of a charter school one week before classes were set to start. The other took place in front of a now empty CPS site that is scheduled to be developed to house teachers next spring.

You don’t see the neighbors that much anymore. Many were outside talking the night of the first shooting and nearly missed being hit by inches or feet. And to say that people are on edge after being awakened by gunfire on a regular basis is an understatement.

I know this isn’t unique to my block or my neighborhood this summer. People in the South Loop recently held a well-publicized meeting to ask what can be done about the violence that’s slowly taking over what most considered a “very safe” area until recently. But what this has made me realize is the true impact that living with violence can have on a person.

People on the south and west sides of Chicago have lived with this stress for many years. It’s easy to read quotes in a news story about people worrying about getting home in one piece and dismiss it, but for too many people, it is a daily reality. Fear. Anger. Confusion. Helplessness. This seems to be the pattern for so many people in Chicago.

As kids are starting back to school, the issue seems even more relevant, especially to those of us who work with kids at schools all over the city and want to keep them safe. I’ve found a strange sense of peace in knowing that, while I can’t control what’s happening around my home, I can help to try to change that pattern of fear and hopelessness that so many people feel by doing my job.  Most of the schools that we work with are in areas that have some of the highest rates of violence in the city, and if adults are fearful in these circumstances, just imagine being a young girl.

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Campers present skits discussing health & leadership topics

Girls in the Game isn’t here just to get girls involved in sports. We are here to help to create leaders, girls who are proud of who they are, know how to make difficult and strong decisions, and who help those around them make better choices. Girls in the Game gives girls a space to talk about feelings of confusion and helplessness and helps them to find ways to deal with those feelings in a positive, productive manner.

Change is not a fast process, and it truly starts with one person. One person at a time. Imagine the change that can happen when 3,500 girls each year feel confident enough to stand up and speak against behavior they know is wrong. One less person in a gang. One less person with a gun. I think everyone likes those thoughts. Now think about 3,500 girls with low confidence, unhealthy behavior or a lack of guidance. Girls in the Game is working to make sure those girls and those around them don’t suffer from factors such as those. That wave of change could be the difference in not just the city of Chicago but the country as a whole.

p1070511I’m not going to say that it’s not scary to think about what might happen when walking home or even going to sleep at night. I’ve gone through the fear, the anger and the confusion. The one step in that pattern that I won’t take part in is helplessness, and if I, and the rest of the team at Girls in the Game, continue to do our jobs, we’re helping others eliminate that feeling, too. Learning to work with others, learning to lead….these are the things that will be agents of change in the future. This is what I want for all of the girls that we serve. Ultimately, it’s what I want for everyone. If people feel empowered and respected, positive change happens. Everyone plays a part in that.

It’s been a tough summer in Chicago and I don’t think anyone is going to be exactly the same when winter finally comes. Even watching the news every day seems to take a toll. But if people can open up and talk through their feelings with each other and work to find solutions that give them some sense of control, change will come. Teamwork is one of the tenants of Girls in the Game programs, and it’s probably the most important one. Together, we can do amazing things. Alone, it’s just back to that pattern.

What’s That Place? by Meghan Morgan

Recently, as we were driving West on Roosevelt, my 4-year-old son Patrick asked me. “Mommy, what’s that place?” Patrick asks a lot of questions. About everything. So there wasn’t a particular reason he was asking about the building we were passing except that it was a really big building and it wasn’t immediately obvious to him what it could be.

I hesitated before I answered. How do I explain to a 4-year-old that the building housed the Cook County Juvenile Court and Detention Center?

“It’s a place where kids go to get help,” I told him.

“What kind of help?” he asked. “Will I need to go there when I need help?”

Another tough question. “No,” I told him. “You’ll come to Mommy and Daddy when you need help.”

“Do the kids that go there not have Mommies and Daddies?” he asked.

Like I told you, he asks a lot of questions. Patrick just turned 4, so I didn’t want to shatter his innocence by explaining to him that the likelihood of him, as a privileged white kid, ending up there was extremely low. So I gave him some general answers to reassure him and changed the subject.

Most people who drive past probably don’t notice the building, and if they do, they don’t think much about it. I was one of those people until a year ago when a staff member at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center reached out to us to do some programming with the girls there. While juvenile arrests are declining nationwide, juvenile arrests by girls are declining at a much slower rate. So, more and more girls are entering the juvenile justice system, and they were interested in bringing in our program for those girls.

Most of the girls at JTDC come from a background of poverty and trauma. In fact, one study shows that 93 percent of the residents at JTDC have experienced trauma. So these are kids coming from tough circumstances who find themselves in a really tough situation. Our main contact at JTDC recently said to me, “No kid would choose to be here.” And she’s right. So when they reached out to us to do programming there, we couldn’t say no.

Girls in the Game started running our program at JTDC twice a week about six months ago. It was a new direction for us, and we were excited. We hired staff, met with our contact there, and secured funding. I heard about the programming a lot, but unlike our other programs where it’s easy to stop by and see how things are going, JTDC has a fair amount of security, as you can imagine. Not only do our coaches have to go through PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) Training and go through their background check process, but all equipment and supplies need to be approved ahead of time and we can’t collect any personal information about participants. Bringing in visitors to the program wasn’t easy, and as we strived to provide some consistency for participants, we knew that having a constant flow of visitors wouldn’t work.

But after a few months of the program we planned a Friends and Family Day for participants, where their families could come and participate in the program with them while the girls showed them what they were learning through Girls in the Game. It was the perfect time to visit programming so I did.

I’m not really sure what I expected from the girls, but I know that I assumed they would be a more challenging group. Teenagers can be unpredictable anyway and these girls were dealing with a tougher draw in life than most. I figured there would be some reluctance to participate, some “too cool” attitudes and, if I’m being honest, some intimidating behavior.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The scheduling of Friends and Family Day was a big deal to the girls. It meant that they had an extra day that week that their families could visit. For one girl, it meant she could play basketball with her Dad. For all of them, it meant they could show their families something really positive they had been doing.  The girls were thrilled to be there and excited about everything, from the volleyball we played to the snacks we were able to bring. One of the mothers was a little late, due to the security measures required to get in, so she wasn’t there when her daughter read Girls in the Game’s mission statement to the group. When her Mom finally arrived, she was so proud, that she asked if she could read the mission statement again.

I left that day with mixed feelings. I was tired for one thing – it had been a while since I had played full-court basketball! I was proud of what Girls in the Game was doing there. But I was also really, really sad for the girls. Because the one thing that was clear was that they were just kids, albeit kids dealing with some really adult situations.

When I think back to Patrick’s question about the building and what happens there, I hope there is some truth to my answer. I hope that the kids who end up there do get the help they deserve, and I hope that Girls in the Game is a part of that. Because all girls deserve the chance to grow as leaders, and by reaching out to populations that so many others ignore, we’ll be a little closer to that goal.

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