Becoming Gamechangers by Maritza Jaimes

This is why I am most attracted to Girls in the Game: we are dedicated to helping girls become future leaders by giving them the right tools. Girls in the Game understands that there are certain communities that can benefit more from programs like ours, communities such as the girls at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC). When I first started, I really believed in the power of these girls to become gamechangers, and I know the rest of the staff did too.

As I have worked with them, the girls at JTDC amaze me every day! And they would amaze you as well if you met them.

Turning Into Leaders

Just a few weeks ago we had a Friends and Family Day where I saw girls take on leadership roles with excitement. The girls literally led the whole event! They were so happy to receive a speaking role to show their parents. In fact, they requested long speaking parts. One of the girls even asked me if she could say her part before her mother had to leave.

I was so excited for the girls because I saw how proud the parents and staff were, and this in turn, made them very proud of themselves. I made certificates for the girls for their extraordinary effort in making Friends and Family Day a success, and I witnessed the girls give their certificates to their parent with pride.

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Making a Connection

A few weeks ago I attended a talent show where I saw the beautiful gifts that these girls possess. One of the girls sang “What is Love?” by Veronica Bozeman and it brought tears to my eyes as I witnessed her family crying in the front row. When I first met this individual, she did not speak to me. She would attend our program, but sit in silence the entire time. After three months, I heard her speak four words to me. I will never forget when she said, “I had fun today,” before walking out.  I remember leaving the detention center and thinking, “Wow, she spoke to me!!”

After that I began to hear more and more from her. Now, she makes me laugh so hard that I literally feel my lungs hurt. I later learned that her mother is serving at the Cook County Jail and she is now supported by her grandmother and aunt. The song she sang at the talent show was in dedication to her mother, whom she misses dearly.

What a Leader Looks Like

Last week, during our programming session, we asked girls to draw what a leader looked like to them and explain what qualities made these people leaders. The assignment was very open-ended, and we got varied responses. One of the girls drew her mother and told me that her mother had passed away two years ago. Her mother had been a role model that was always encouraging her to pursue her goals.

Another individual wrote that her leader is a college graduate because that is what she aims to accomplish. She explained that she chose to draw this leader because it is a great goal that she wants to share with everyone. What struck me the most was when one girl wrote how the other girls in our program are leaders to her. She explained how girls at JTDC have given her advice and are encouraging her to make the right decisions once released. How beautiful is that? Our girls are being leaders to each other!

There are countless stories like this that demonstrate the power these girls possess. Each story confirms that these girls have so much more power than I ever imagined. They have faced trauma and violence. They have struggled through many hardships that are too painful for me to speak about. And above all, these girls have the power to be gamechangers, and I witness it every day.

Names have not been used because all juvenile records are private at JTDC.

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