‘Smart girls’ befriend wise women

Fred McCormick

The idea was to create a space in which middle school-aged girls felt empowered to be themselves.

Six months after being launched on a trial basis, Black Mountain Recreation and Parks Department’s Smart Girls program, which supports young girls during a developmental period in their lives, continues to gain traction.

Every Monday, participants meet at the Carver Community Center. Girls 11-14 years old spend an hour learning about healthy lifestyles and positive female role models. Or they make arts and crafts with women from the community.

Pairing the girls and adults creates an environment where the girls can be themselves and seek guidance from women with life experience, according to Jill Edwards, the department’s health service programs administrator.

“We want to empower the girls to feel confidence,” she said. “This program gives them the chance to do that. We want to encourage them to be the person that they are, no matter who that is.”

Owen senior Hannah Quinn began helping with Smart Girls nearly two months ago when she began her internship with the recreation department. She believes her relatively recent experience in middle school helps her connect with the girls in the program.

“They take me back to when I was in middle school, and I see myself in these girls,” Quinn said. “The things that they need are some of the things that I needed when I was in middle school, and I really like encouraging them to be themselves and dare to be different.”

The programs allow the girls to lean on the experience of women who have navigated some of the difficulties middle school-aged girls experience. Many girls during that time are obsessed with their appearance, negative energy that undermines their self-confidence.

Sheila Ellington was interested in mentoring children when she discovered Smart Girls, drawn to the laid-back atmosphere of the weekly meetings.

“I think that the girls like that someone is here and we will have fun things for them to do,” she said. “We encourage them to bring friends as well. This is a comfortable place for them to come.”

Topics for meetings rotate weekly, according to Edwards, who added that the program is designed to be loosely structured to help the girls relax.

“The first week of every month we focus on food. It could be cooking, it could be healthy eating, but it’s centered around food,” she said. “We have a week that focuses on crafts, a week that focuses on fitness and a week that focuses on beauty. And when there is a fifth week, we focus on giving back.”

Sydney Worley, a 12-year-old student at Owen Middle School, has been involved with the program for about a month. She said that she would recommend other girls her age sign up.

“It’s fun, and you get to do a lot of new things that you may have not done before,” she said.

The opportunity to give back to the community is another part of the program that Worley enjoys.

“In a few weeks we are going to Brother Wolf,” she said.

While Edwards has been happy with the community’s response to the program, she points out that Smart Girls is always in need of women looking to be positive role models for young girls.

“We definitely would like to have more ladies involved,” she said.