Twenty-five excited young girls between the ages of 11 and 14 gathered at the Boys and Girls Club of New Rochelle Friday evening ready to participate in the “Thank Goodness It’s Friday! Grrrl Power” workshop.
The program, co-sponsored by Girls Incorporated of Westchester County, used interactive activities and the idea of “girl power” to create an open and intimate setting, to teach about violence prevention and self-defense.
The evening started with an interactive introduction. Girls stood in a large circle facing each other tossing teddy bears while learning their peers' names. After greeting and giggling together, the girls discussed what self-defense means to them and their self-defense rights.
Evelyn Sadler from Girls Inc. explained the program is about building relationships. “We do it in a fun way, in a recreational way,” she said. “It’s Friday night and a key point is it is a girls-only space. So girls can feel comfortable together and support each other and count on each other.”
Her fellow organizer Gwen Clayton, the SMART Moves project director for the Boys and Girls Club of New Rochelle, agrees. “It’s that girl-friendship, knowing how to support and create an all girl community,” she said.
Girls attending the event are at an influential stage in a young girl’s growth. During the 11- to 14-age-range, girls typically begin to express self-doubt. Often times girls answer questions with a question or lose their voice and opinions, so the program aimed to instill a new found confidence in the girls.
“Women are often victimized, the media is very confusing to young girls and I think the stronger they feel, the smarter they feel, the bolder they are, the better future of women and mothers and teachers and everything else,” Clayton said. “It sets the ground for our future generation when we can build on this group right here.”
An echoing activity allowed the girls to not only enjoy a laugh, but realize the importance of their voice. They experimented with volume and tone to learn the best ways to assertively express themselves.
Arleen Leon, 11, a Bronx resident learned how to speak with the confidence she needs to assert herself. “I like to learn how to defend ourselves and how to stand up for ourselves with our voice and minds,” she said.
One of the most anticipated activities of the night had girls on their feet blocking, punching and kicking to practice the physical aspects of self-defense.
Eleven-year-old Shirley Reyes of New Rochelle took exactly what organizers wanted to highlight—that self-defense is not fighting, but rather anything one must do to keep safe.
“People don’t think girls can actually fight, but what we want to actually tell is girls can fight for themselves, not fist-fighting, but block moves and girls are defended,” Reyes said.
Following the self-defense class, girls enjoyed a dinner of garden salad, turkey ziti with iced tea-lemonade prepared by Chef Al Amin, who participated in many community projects with the Boys and Girls Club. Once the girls regained their energy they went on to learn more about tough situations women may find themselves in and how to make the right decisions in these situations.
“Most people think that it’s never going to happen to them and it’s just not my world, so this is getting before the eight ball,” Clayton explains. “If it does happen, God forbid, hopefully it never does, they can remember some of the skills and conversation and the awareness they may not have had for some serious issues down the road.”
The program was part of the Skills Mastery and Resistance Training or SMART initiative of the Boys and Girls Club that offers age-specific activities that improve females’ physical and emotional health.