Marching for Our Girls’ Future by Dawn Kobel

Last Saturday, I had the incredible experience of attending the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. I’ve taken part in smaller, supportive rallies and marches throughout my life but never anything that was slated to be so large and encompassing so many issues. I had no idea what to expect, but I was still excited to start meeting up with friends at the airport on Friday morning to head out.

People were posting from their flights, all of us with the same story: almost entirely female passengers, all going to the March. We got free drinks on the plane as a thank you for marching. And two friends and I ended up on the Facebook wall of a worker at Chili’s in the airport because she was so excited to talk to people who were going. Once there, we met up with other friends from around the country, ending up with a group of 14+ women, ages 16-67 (thanks to some family members joining), representing six states. I was thrilled to reconnect with some old friends and make new ones, but what I didn’t know was that this group would be so representative of the entire experience.

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Dawn and her friends with their signs getting ready to march in D.C.

We made signs the night before, strapping them on in the morning for the walk to the rally. There was palpable excitement in the air the second we hit the street, people smiling and greeting each other as they passed, some people who weren’t going to the march but still passed saying “Thank you” or “You do it!” as they walked the other way. Police were friendly, high-fiving and taking photos with marchers. Everything was great.

And then we got close to the rally. The amount of bodies that we could see was beyond what we expected. As we smashed our way into the crowd to listen to  a group of inspiring speakers, you could hear the waves of response coming from other directions, making us aware that, even though we were already in the midst of a massive crowd, there were so many more people out there that we hadn’t seen yet. People were a little nervous, as it was D.C., a large crowd and a volatile time in our country. As Americans, we have learned the hard lesson that anything is possible and safety is never guaranteed, but as you looked around and saw old women in wheelchairs and small children on their parents’ shoulders, you somehow knew it was going to be okay.

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A small snapshot of the enormous crowds on D.C.’s streets for the march

The march route was slow, it was crowded and it was charged with positive energy. You couldn’t see where you were going, people kept filtering in to an already packed main route from small side streets, and yet, everyone was peaceful. People moved aside. You started up conversations with whoever you were next to. I met two women who flew in from Australia for the march because they felt that they had to “support our country.” Women with ERA sashes. People leading chants. My group leading laughs to break up the time between chants. Really creative and thoughtful signs.

The signs did help to lighten the mood and make you think along the way, but after the march, I was a little saddened to see that so many news stories just focused on the humorous signs. They were a big part of the day and of expression, but this event was about so much more than just signs and slogans, about more than women’s rights….it was about bringing people together to raise their voice to draw attention to whatever their issue was, and there were so many issues represented. It was about respect, about learning, about getting out frustrations in a safe and constructive way. It was about a large group of people from all over the place, of different sexes, different races, ages and religions, wanting to be heard. It truly was about America and what this country is meant to be.

I am always proud to work for an organization that helps to empower girls to use their voice and be agents of change. And while I wish we lived in a world where we didn’t have to march to feel heard, I hope that the girls that grow up with Girls in the Game will continue to use their voice no matter their age or their location to right whatever wrongs they see.  I was happy to know that many of my friends and coworkers were marching in Chicago and other cities around the country that day and even happier to hear that everyone was peaceful.

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Marchers with capes made from Shepard Fairey’s art

I watched 6-year-old Sophie Cruz bring hundreds of thousands of people to tears at the rally with a simple and sweet message of solidarity. Voices raised together can be powerful, but a single voice spoken with intelligence and heart can be just as strong. Girls in the Game teaches this to thousands of girls every year. If those girls lead by example and share those lessons, think about what they could accomplish. The future is definitely uncertain, but I am proud to know so many strong and passionate people who I know will make the world better in a variety of ways and so excited to see what I feel to be true: Girls will truly one day run the world.

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The Courage of Connecting Across Chicago by Katherine Wajrowski

One of our big priorities here at Girls in the Game is serving girls ‘citywide’ throughout Chicago. This means providing opportunities for girls from various areas of the city to attend events where they get to play with girls with whom they might not otherwise interact. Girls in the Game has the privilege of working with girls who live as far south as Roseland, as far north as Albany Park and in many other amazing communities in between.

We connect girls through one-time events, clinics, field trips and summer camps. This is an intentional choice on our part to foster interactions between girls with different backgrounds; be it race, culture, family structure, religion or the neighborhood they live in.

One of my favorite citywide event memories occurred when I first became an After School coach in 2012. A girl I coached at one school saw me high five a girl I coached at another school. Confusion took over her face as realized that I was Coach Katherine not only to her, but to other girls in the city. She exclaimed, “Hey that’s my coach! How do you know her?!” Apart from making her coach feel extra special, that one moment stands out because it allowed her to feel a part of something really big.

Here are some examples of quotes you might overhear at a Girls in the Game citywide event. At Girls in the Game, we value diversity and believe in providing spaces for connecting conversations to occur.

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Consider what kind of connecting conversations you can have this year. As we begin 2017, let us remember that it takes courage to leave our comfort zones, but learning from those different than us will only add value to our lives and to life itself.

Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone by Anna Hershner

Every year as I was growing up I spent a few weeks away from home at summer camp. I often went to camp by myself so that I could meet new people and make new friends. At eight-years-old it was a nerve-wracking endeavor to find someone to share a bunk bed with, a swimming partner and someone who would help me find the bathroom if I had to get up in the middle of the night. Despite my initial shakiness, I plucked up my courage, stepped outside of my comfort zone and found that every year it got a little easier to build relationships and make the most out of my time at camp.

At camp I learned a myriad of things: tons of campfire songs, how to paddle and un-sink a canoe, the best way to tie-dye a shirt and the ability to tell if a plant was poison ivy (and, coincidentally, the best way to treat poison ivy). As I returned to camp each summer, I discovered that alongside my newfound abilities in water skiing and archery, I was learning softer and less tangible skills. I was becoming a better listener, working more cohesively with others and getting excited about my own capacity as a leader. Camp fostered these abilities and provided a space for me to learn how to problem-solve, communicate and be an effective and inclusive team member.

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Anna as a camp counselor, teaching other kids to step outside their comfort zone.

Finding the courage to step outside my comfort zone allowed me to gain new experiences and develop important skills, and I have seen participants here at Girls in the Game find courage in challenging moments and witnessed incredible growth. As an intern, one of the programs I work with is Teen Squad. The girls in Teen Squad facilitate workshops for younger participants, leading them through health, sports and leadership programming. It has truly been a privilege to work with and learn from the girls in Teen Squad as they coach the participants through activities, games and discussions. Before they start programming, they plan out what the activities will look like, their roles and the game plan for the day. They know what they need to create programming that is successful and effective, and are careful to cover all the bases before they even begin.

Even with the most careful planning, challenges often arise. As they face these obstacles, they are flexible in their expectations and supportive of one another. There are times when only a few participants show up, causing them to adjust the rules of the game or eliminate a certain activity. At other times they are faced with an enormous group of excited and energetic second-graders and split up into groups on their own to step into a coaching role without a partner.

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Teens training to be coaches for the elementary school girls in our program.

They take on these challenges with courage and enthusiasm. It is inspiring to witness their ability to adapt and problem-solve while they are coaching. After the program is finished, I sit with the girls as they debrief the workshop and discuss the challenges and high points. They are thoughtful as they reflect on their experiences and I really enjoy hearing about how they came to a solution or felt successful in an activity.

The theme at Girls in the Game this month is, “We Strive for Courage,” and the girls in Teen Squad exhibit many qualities that are rooted in courage. It takes an immense amount of courage to stand up in front of a group of kids to teach a game, yet the girls in Teen Squad make it look easy. It can be intimidating to facilitate a discussion in front of your own peers, but the girls in Teen Squad are equipped with the skills to face situations head on.

Many of them have been participating in Girls in the Game for several years and have gained impressive and innumerable abilities in the process. Girls in the Game has created an environment that nurtures the development of communication, leadership and teamwork skills, preparing girls for experiences beyond their time in Teen Squad. I am thrilled to work for an organization that values the importance of courageous and impactful leadership in the lives of girls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Girls Are Offered Less by Meghan Morgan

Recently, we were out with some friends at a pizza place that caters to families on Friday nights. They offer face painting and balloon animals and it was the perfect place for our group that included a number of young kids. Right away, all the kids lined up to get their balloon animals. The first two kids in line were the oldest in the group, two boys, and they immediately came back to the table with some pretty cool balloon swords. Patrick, my 4-year-old, asked for a sword of his own, and soon it was time for Jane, who’s only 2, to get her balloon. The woman leaned down and asked Jane whether she wanted a butterfly or a flower. Jane, not entirely sure how to answer, looked at me.

“She wants a sword,” I told the woman, knowing from experience that if she didn’t get the same thing as Patrick, problems would later ensue.

My friend’s little girl, Emily, arrived a little bit later and immediately went to get her balloon. She came back with a flower and the kids moved on to face painting.

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Meghan’s 2-year-old daughter Jane having fun on the soccer field.

Later that night, as the adults were chatting, the kids decided it was time to play with their balloon swords and Emily quickly discovered that there’s not much you can do with a flower except look at it. She was not happy, and her Mom quickly helped her find the balloon artist so she too, could get a sword.

The balloon artist didn’t mean any harm by offering Emily and Jane flowers instead of swords. She simply assumed that because they were girls, they would prefer them. And kids, especially kids that young, tend to go along with what’s offered to them.

Unfortunately, girls are too often offered less than boys.

This weekend, in Washington, D.C. and across the nation, women will join together to make their voices heard. Some of our staff members are traveling to D.C., and many others will be there in Chicago. It’s a powerful image, one I’m looking forward to seeing, and it reminds me why the work we do is so important.

At Girls in the Game, we teach girls to demand swords, not flowers. We empower them to use their voices and speak up for what they want and what they deserve. We teach them that they can change their lives, and the lives of those around them. We show them that they have power. This weekend, they, and all of us, will see what that power looks like on a much grander scale.

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All girls are given space to grow into strong and confident leaders at Girls in the Game.

Right now, in 2017, it is more important than ever for Girls in the Game to continue empowering girls to grow as leaders. We have a unique responsibility to not only help girls discover their own voices, but to elevate their voices so that more people are aware that girls are strong and capable of changing the world. Personally, I take that responsibility very seriously. As we enter 2017 with our strategic plan as a guide, we will strive to reach more girls that need us. We’ll seek partners that will allow us to deepen our impact and expand our reach. And we’ll strive to for excellence, not for ourselves but for all of the girls who need Girls in the Game.

 

Finding My Courage on the Track by Charissa Newkirk

My daily schedule is this: I pull myself together for class in the morning, still sore from yesterday’s lift. I go to class, then into lab for hours at a time. I practice for two and a half hours in the afternoon. Then, I drag myself to the library to stay up and do work until the wee hours of the morning. I fall asleep, then wake up and do it all again.

At my medical school interviews in the fall, a reoccurring question came up: what has been my greatest challenge in college? It would be easy to point to many seemingly obvious aspects of my life. Being a woman of color in science at one of the most difficult institutions in the country is a big one-though the normal disappointments, heartbreaks and growing pains of college is another.

However, my response to the interviewer was being able to balance my life (academics and otherwise) with track. As my career as a student athlete begins to draw to a close, I have been doing a lot of self-reflection. This introspection became more pressing as I was filling out the grueling essays required on my medical school applications; I had to truly understand my journey into medicine, and what set me apart from the rest. I began to realize that much of this revolved around track.

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Charissa competing at a track meet for The University of Chicago.

As rewarding as being a student athlete has been, it has not come without challenges. It was an ongoing struggle for me to balance all of my classes on top of all my extracurricular commitments. I thought that it would get easier after being in school for a while, but the work just got harder, and my busy schedule only got busier with labs, clubs, research, and frankly just time to eat in peace. Being a premed in my third year didn’t help, because the stakes became higher as competition among other people applying to medical school became very apparent.

I saw many of my fellow teammates struggle to find this balance, to the point where several quit. Year after year, promising athletes join teams at my school, only for them to quit sixth months later due to the pressures of coursework. I found myself questioning all the time as to whether any of the pain was worth it.

Division III athletes are athletes voluntarily. I was under no scholarship or contract. The only thing keeping me on the track every day was my love of the sport, which oftentimes just didn’t feel like enough. I was perpetually exhausted and stressed- what was the point?

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Charissa with some of her University of Chicago track friends.

 

I typed all of this into my medical school applications, and finally resolved the conflict by saying this: I stay because I have the courage to pour my heart and soul into something I love. I risked not only my grades and other activities, but my own social life and sanity as well. However, what good is anything that I do if I don’t have the passion behind it? It takes courage to bring myself back to the track every day in order to contribute to my team.

Courage is being able to say no to a lot of opportunities I have because I know track is more important. In a world where young people have more options and decisions than ever before, it’s easy to become impatient if satisfaction is not immediate. It’s easy to become constantly indecisive. It’s easy to get caught up in seemingly better options due to the constant influx of information. Therefore, running track to me is having the courage to make sacrifices for something bigger than myself.

I strive for this courage because despite me hanging up my spikes at the end of this school year, the lessons I have learned through running will help me through situations throughout the rest of my life. The courage to be passionate is something that will never diminish, and despite its challenges, the reward is much greater.

Charissa is a senior at The University of Chicago, and a member of the the Women’s Track & Field team. In 2016 she posted the No. 4 time in school history in the outdoor 4×100-meter relay and was on the UAA All-Academic Team. Charissa’s writing has also appeared in The Huffington Post.

12 Lessons to Live With No Regrets by Mary Banker

I would rather do things that I fear than live a life with regret. I have had people tell me they wish they were more like me, not afraid to try new things or go after big goals. While I appreciate that sentiment, it is a bit misguided. I do get afraid and nervous, and I struggle from time to time with self-doubt. The difference is that I still go after the goal or try the new thing that is causing fear, nerves and self-doubt. For me, regret is scarier than fear; regret is permanent, fear is temporary. This is the place I often draw my courage from when I find myself nervous to try something new or afraid that I may fail.

Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to hear one of the best speakers teach on living a life with no regrets. Coach Swider, the head football coach at Wheaton College, is living an exceptional life and through speaking has been sharing his wisdom beyond the locker room. He speaks with NFL teams, various companies, at graduations and at professional development conferences. I feel fortunate I have been able to hear him speak on more than one occasion, and I want to share what I have learned with all of you.

Here are Coach Swider’s 12 concepts to know so you can live a life without regret.

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Coach Mike with his players at practice. Photo via TribLocal
  1. Someone has to want to be motivated. If they aren’t, you can’t do it for them. You have a choice what kind of person you want to be. Make the choice to be a person who wants to be challenged, motivated and confronted.
  1. Integrity-Can you be trusted to do what is right? Be a person of honesty, with good character, and be loyal.
  1. Audit the state of your soul. Leaders reflect where they are in their heart. When perspective is lost a person can become disoriented, irrational and frustrated. Regain perspective. When Coach Swider’s team lost a game he came home and was so angry he decided to rake leaves. Later that night he was having trouble sleeping when his son came into his room. Coach said, “Are you having a hard time sleeping?” His son responded he was. He said he was thinking so much about something, mind you he was under the age of 10-years-old. So Coach asked him what was on his mind, and his son said, “Dad when I come play football for you will I call you Dad or Coach?” All of a sudden Coach Swider’s perspective was restored to what really mattered in life. His son respected him so much as a coach he wanted to address him as that, but also loved him so much as a father he wanted to call him dad. When his son did play for him he called him Coach on the field and Dad in the offices.
  1. Quitting is NOT an option. When you take on an opportunity or join a team of any kind think of the worst possible conditions when you commit. It is easy to say yes when things are rosy and clear and easy. But what about when the conditions are tough? When Coach Swider speaks to his team at the first day of practice he paints a picture of a day when it’s 30 degrees, they are tired, the field is muddy, it’s finals week, and he is pushing them and in their face at practice. He then asks, do you still want to commit to being part of this team and all that it means?
  1. Seek to serve rather than to rule. Amazing leaders are selfless, humble and service-oriented. This world and life do not revolve around you. Serve others and your joys will be greater.
  1. Your mission should be motivated by cause. What are you motivated by; playing or winning? If you are on a team and you are motivated by playing you are concentrating on yourself. If you are motivated by winning you are focused on what is best for the whole team and the team’s goal as a whole. Glory is a bad motivator, instead fight for a cause. Ask the question what is best for us/ for the organization/or for the team? And then check your individual goals and make sure they line up.
  1. Do not treat people as things, people matter. When you place rules and demands on people without a relationship it will equal rebellion. People want to know you care before they care about what you know. Time spent on developing relationships is never a waste of time. Learn to really listen and wait your turn to talk, listen to understand, not to respond. Make yourself available to everyone.
  1. Discipline-be willing to labor wanting nothing in return. Can you work at something and not be paid or recognized in any way?
  1. Competent-are you part of the problem or are you part of the solution? The small details in life matter, they turn into the big things. Are you willing to pay attention to those minute details and make them important, even though there aren’t immediate returns?
  1. Enthusiasm! Genuine leaders lead with energy, passion and enthusiasm. If you have ever been in a room with no enthusiasm or energy, you are part of the problem. Have a powerful and positive presence. Is this who you are? Energy and enthusiasm can overcome anything!
  1. Moral Courage-This is the ability to act despite your fears, to do what’s right because you know that it is right. One year Coach’s son played in a junior high football league that won the entire league and were champions. His son’s coach asked where they wanted to eat and celebrate and the boys said Hooters, so they went to Hooters. Coach Swider’s son said he was uncomfortable going there and didn’t want to partake. He gave his money to one of the boys and asked them to bring his sandwich out to the parking lot while he waited on the curb, where he planned to eat. The whole team went in and 15 minutes later the entire team came back out. The coach said they decided it wasn’t right and that they could do better. In that moment Coach Swider’s son, who was only 13-years-old, had moral courage and did what was right. His actions changed the hearts of grown men and shifted the direction of that entire team.
  1. Understand the responsibility of being part of the team. You are part of something more, this is not a place to allow ego, pride or jealousy; those things are poison and will destroy your team, it’s only a matter of time. Be more!

 

* The 2016 season marked Mike Swider‘s 21st as head coach and his 32nd as a member of the Wheaton College football coaching staff. Since taking over the program in 1996, Swider has posted a 181-47 record with a 79.4% winning percentage, which ranks him first all-time in both categories among Wheaton’s 21 head football coaches. He also holds the eighth-highest winning percentage of any active Division III coach and is among the top-15 highest winning percentages of any coach in Division III history with 10 or more years of experience. During Swider’s tenure as head coach, the program has reached the NCAA playoffs nine times in the last decade, won eight CCIW titles, produced 36 All-Americans and 210 All-Conference players.