During one week in late July, my life flashed before my ears. Yes, my ears – not my eyes.
Actually, it was the life of Girls in the Game as I heard (or reheard) the stories of dozens of people who have been involved somewhere along the way over the organization’s 22-year history.
I count myself among the lucky ones, having been connected to Girls in the Game from the beginning. I started as a volunteer, then served for 16 years as one of the leaders, and now again as a volunteer. I also feel fortunate to have met thousands of people over the years, many of whom have never met one another, but all of who share a passion and dedication that connects us to this very special organization and to each other.
Each person I listened to was a part of one or more chapters of Girls in the Game. Their words brought the history of Girls in the Game to life and are a part of ensuring Girls in the Game has a solid and mission-filled future.
At a special event, Marilynn, our founding board chair, spoke of Girls in the Game’s earliest years. She reminisced about our early fundraisers in a local gym where we donned gym shoes and dined on picnic foods. There wasn’t a lot of glamour, but there was never a shortage of laughter and the focus was always on the girls. It is why Marilynn is still an active board member today.
At the same event I saw Carrie, who was a staff person when we had just a handful of employees. Hired to help raise funds, she quickly learned to wear many hats, from filling in for a sick After School coach, to plunging the toilets. Whatever the task, she rolled up her sleeves and jumped in. She explained that when you believe in something and see the impact on so many girls, you just do whatever it takes.
I thought of Claire, now a mother herself, who was one of the first girls to get involved. She is still involved, now serving on our Auxiliary Board, a group of young professionals who want to give back and make a difference for girls across Chicago. As Claire puts it, “I want them to have a chance to become the best versions of themselves, like I did.”
In the same week, I saw that potential in action when I stopped by Summer Camp. Rose just graduated high school and has been involved with Girls in the Game since her first Summer Camp experience when she was 11. Rose is now one of our amazing leaders, serving as a counselor for younger girls at camp, but she wasn’t always present with the confidence and smiling face she does now. Prior to Girls in the Game, Rose endured horrendous bullying and loneliness. Now she holds her head high. As an experienced counselor, she leads a group of younger campers from activity to activity, letting them know they’re special and using her special knack to seek out and support the shyer girls. She’s off to college in the fall, but looks me in the eye and tells me, “Don’t worry — I’ll be back. These are MY girls!”
Tamara is seven and this was her first year at camp. She’s a part of the most recent chapter of Girls in the Game. She tells me that she “loves it so much.” And although seven-year-olds typically are not allowed to attend overnight camp, she prepared a very convincing pitch to appeal to the camp director. The verdict? Look for pictures of Tamara as she experiences canoeing, archery and camp fires at overnight camp with over 100 other girls. You’ve got to that love she’s already learning how to be an advocate for herself!
The next chapter of Girls in the Game is being written now. All of us have a chance to be a part of something really special in a way that works for each of us. The leadership team – Meghan, Dawn, Beth and so many more are forces for change. They listen to the girls, connect with donors and volunteers, and then find ways make it happen. And it’s working; more and more girls in Chicago and beyond have the same opportunity that the first small group of girls did.
That week it all came together in a way that was loud and clear. One person’s dream has become a life-changing reality for thousands. Thousands who are now dreaming together so the next generation of girls know the importance of their own words. So they can see firsthand what can happen when people from diverse backgrounds speak up in a collective voice so girls everywhere are safe, valued and given the chance to make their own dreams a reality.
Amy Skeen is currently an Associate Professor of Social Work at Concordia University. From April 1999 through June 2015, she served as the Executive Director of Girls in the Game, leading the organization through years of growth and impacting the lives of thousands of girls and families with her work.