Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana continues to shape young girls through innovative programs

Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana continues to shape young girls through innovative programs
By: Julia Demma Last Updated: February 17, 2020

Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana’s dedicated, caring staff are committed to ensuring Club members are on track to create and realize their own plans for GREAT Futures. For a girl who is experiencing all the changes that come with going from adolescence to adulthood, it is pivotal to have someone or something to turn to for guidance.

Female members of Boys & Girls Clubs can turn to trustworthy staff and innovative programs designed to help navigate these challenging times. Two such programs are Real.Strong.Girls. and SMART Girls.

Real.Strong.Girls. is a program in partnership with Lake Area United Way, a dynamic community of women from all walks of life who are united in their belief that every girl deserves the chance to reach her full potential.  This mission is fulfilled by building girls’ self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-resiliency through giving, volunteering, and advocating.

Each month, United Way representatives visit different Clubs in the area and touch on many different topics such as healthy eating and hygiene while doing fun activities like a canvas painting.

“I think this program is extremely important. Often our girls don’t have opportunities to receive important information that Real.Strong.Girls. offers,” said Tanisha Kidd, Operations Assistant for Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana. “Also, this program is free to our girls and provides them with a safe space for learning.”

The Real.Strong.Girls. program benefits participants by providing a self-esteem boost, added confidence, and resiliency, as well as the chance to form new friendships.

“Many girls who didn’t know each other before joining the program have now made friendships and spend time together outside of classes. I’ve also seen self-esteem improvements in our female Club members, which is very important at this point in their lives.”

Another program designed to meet the developmental needs of girls is SMART Girls. This program is offered in Clubs across America and is broken into three different age groups: 8-12, 11-13, and 14-18 with specific curriculums that correspond with developmental issues in each stage of life. SMART Girls is a small-group approach that focuses on health, fitness, prevention/education, and self-esteem enhancement.

Through dynamic sessions, participatory activities, field trips, and mentoring opportunities with adult women, girls explore their own and societal attitudes and values as they build skills for eating well, staying active, making good health choices, and developing positive relationships with peers and adults.

“It’s important to provide SMART Girls at our Clubs because it helps girls navigate the different stages of their pre-teen and teenage development,” said Dylan McKee, Director of External Affairs at Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana.

Girls who participate in SMART Girls have the opportunity to graduate from the program. Often, Clubs treat participating girls to an activity or dinner to celebrate their accomplishments.

“For a graduation in the past, the girls were taken to a dinner where they received their certificates and then treated to a manicure at a local nail salon,” Kidd said. “For a lot of the girls, this was their first experience stepping foot in a nail salon, and I could tell it really meant a lot to them.”

Because the SMART Girls program covers many personal subjects, it is important to establish strong, both peer-to-peer and peer-to-instructor, relationships. Most importantly, a safe space must be established to allow for intimate, yet open conversations.

“At the start of the program, we developed group rules, one of which was: whatever happens in the program, doesn’t leave the program. Everyone felt so strongly about this rule that we solidified it in writing to build trust,” Kidd said.

Asking questions aloud may be nerve-wracking for some, so Kidd eased these concerns by encouraging girls to drop written questions in a group question box.

The experiences and knowledge SMART Girls offers remains with many Club members years after they move on from the program.

“I’ve seen a big difference in the girls who have participated. Girls have told me they are thankful for the knowledge they’ve acquired on subjects such as dating and peer-to-peer communication. Also, many girls who were in the program together are still friends,” Kidd said.

At pivotal points in girls’ lives, it is important for young women to have someone to turn to for information and support.

“Both the Real.Strong.Girls. program and SMART Girls have a big impact on girls because the approach to these important subjects is completely different at Boys & Girls Clubs. Such programs are implemented in group settings surrounded by Club girls who are going through similar experiences, as well as staff who are welcoming and make them feel comfortable to ask any questions they may have,” Kidd said.

Depending on the Club, the schedule for SMART Girls sessions vary. Interested in becoming a member? Visit https://www.bgcgreaternwi.org/become-a-member/ for more information.