Hardy Girls Healthy Women hosts annual Girls Rock! Weekend

This past weekend, Hardy Girls Healthy Women (HGHW) held its annual Girl Rock! Weekend. Since 1998, the organization has offered these meetings as a way to highlight girls’ strengths, knowledge and their ability to work in coalition.

Between Friday and Saturday, over 350 girls from across the state of Maine gathered at a number of sites—including Mayflower Hill—to take part in programs designed to educate, support and honor young women working to make their communities better and safer places. According to Professor of Education and co-creator of HGHW Lyn Mikel Brown, the conferences and subsequent Girls Rock! Awards are designed to “call attention to the complexity and diversity of girls’ voices and experiences, and to acknowledge girls as civic actors and not just consumer citizens as they are often assumed to be.”

The conference is designed to be led by HGHW participants—or as Director of Programs Christine Bright said, “by girls for girls” Bright worked directly with a cohort of 21 high-school-aged leaders known as the Girls Advisory Board (GAB) to develop much of the programming for these weekend workshops. “We talked about what sorts of activities would engage girls of that age, and how to make a presentation engaging,” Bright said.

Bright, who has been in charge of programming at HGHW for the past two years, noted the high attendance numbers throughout the weekend, with over 200 fourth to eighth grade girls at Colby alone—the highest turnout in the College’s history of participation. “Helping the Girls Advisory Board get their workshops and presentations ready was really fun and messy and challenging…. It is rare and wonderful to find a place that takes theory and applies that theory directly to its programming. It is a very small organization which gives me the opportunity to be involved in all facets of the work,” Bright said.

Among the adult volunteers were a number of Colby women, many of whom participate weekly in HGHW’s Girls Coalition Group. “The Coalition groups are where we do most of our work throughout the year,” Colby Program Leader Tess Farley ’17 said. “Many of the girls in attendance at this conference also attend group sessions at local schools where girls have an opportunity to talk about issues specific to their school and their environment, as well as to discuss ways in which they can affect positive change.”

HGHW volunteers are known as “muses,” nomenclature that according to Program Leader Kate Parsons ’15 was adopted to reinforce the spirit of inspiration intrinsic to the organization’s values and infrastructure. “We work more as facilitators than mentors,” Parsons said. “We see ourselves as equal to the girls in our coalition group, which I think helps in our mission. One important thing we teach is to validate emotions and let the girls know that what they’re feeling is okay….You never know where a kid coming from, and I’ve personally seen that mix of engagement and equality be really empowering for them.”

For Parsons, Hardy Girls is a family affair. Her younger sister, Beth, a high school junior, also participates in HGHW around Bangor. “She has really loved it. She’s on the quiet side, but through her work with [the organization], I’ve seen her come out of her shell,” Parsons said. “She has really learned so much, and there are many things you don’t learn about Women’s and Gender studies and women’s health in your typical high school experience.”

Brown added that HGHW trains roughly 50 students to run Girls Coalition Groups around Waterville area schools annually, and as a professor, she often incorporates her work with Hardy Girls into her academic courses. “Hardy Girls provides supervision and training for Colby students that includes learning about girls’ development, media literacy, grassroots activism, cultural sensitivity, and a range of facilitation skills,” Brown said.

In turn, the Education Program and the College works to support HGHW’s programming through internships and sponsorships. This year the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement subsidized participation in the conference held on campus, helping to make it financially and logistically possible for many of the girls to attend.  “We are able to offer spots to every girl whether she can pay the small fee or not,” Brown said. “Parents, teachers, and local agencies are really enthusiastic about this—that we are working together to support the healthy development and success of youth in our community.”

In addition to the Conference, HGHW celebrated the work of five young women at the Girls Rock! Awards on Friday, April 10, in Portland’s Longfellow Square. Those recognized included Edna-Thecla Akimana, Jamee Fillmore, Jessica Smith, Karen Noble, Lilly Wakeman, Muna Mohamed, and Nimco Isack—all of whom have shown powerful leadership in the areas such as mental and physical health, race, immigration, addiction, technology, arts, athletics, and civic engagement.

“[Girl Rock! Weekend] illuminates the talent and power of girls as social change makers in the here and now. So often people talk about developing girls as leaders, but they are already doing amazing things in their schools and communities across Maine,” Brown said. “The award winners and our Girls Advisory Board members are testament to what girls can accomplish with resources, scaffolding, and the support of those who believe in their capabilities.”

“Girls Rock Weekend has been so inspiring for me both years that I have attended.  Sometimes I forget what an impact our work has but it is hard to miss it during this weekend.  At the end of each conference I asked the girls to raise their hands if they learned something today.  All the hands went up.  Did they make a new friend?  All the hands went up. Did they learn something about themselves?  All their hands went up,” Bright said.

“It is knowing that those girls left the day changed that makes the work worth it,” Bright continued. “That they may explain to a friend what feminism is, or that they might be able to give a compliment not based on looks, or that they know that this is their world and they have the right, the power and the responsibility to change it that keeps me happy to be doing what I am doing.”

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