This year 228 girls participated in 23 Girls' Circles. The Circles reinforce the messages of Girls' Day Out. Jenny Overeynder chaired the Assessment Committee and reported that through seven focus groups, girls were unanimous in their positive opinion of the program. "They found it helpful, fun and commented on the fact that they could have `real conversation'....Many girls felt they had become better persons, became more confident, became friendlier, had a better attitude and had become more considerate of others."
In addition to completing the sixth year of Girls' Day Out/Girls' Circles, WGGS accepted the challenge of its major funder, The Schenectady Foundation, to demonstrate its sustainability and became an official 501(c)(3) this year (as the Working Group on Girls of Schenectady, Inc.--WGGS) with a Board of Directors and by-laws. After close to 12 years of chairing the Working Group, Joanne Tobiessen is retiring and Gwynne DeLong will be elected as the new President.
Also, thanks to the Covenant Fund of the First Reformed Church, the organization has a grant for a part-time administrator, Kathleen McLean, who joined the group in September 2014.
With deep appreciation to the League of Women Voters NYS Education Fund (LWVNYS EF), WGGS presented its first annual organizational Roots and Wings award to Laura Ladd Bierman, Executive Director of the LWVNYS EF for providing the 501(c)(3) umbrella to the organization for the past 5½ years. Also, with great appreciation, WGGS presented its first annual Roots and Wings award to an individual: Julia Helfman, for her contribution as one of the Founding Mothers and major fundraiser for WGGS. Thanks to the leadership of Ebony Belmar, member of WGGS and social worker at Mont Pleasant Middle School, a program of Boys' Day Out in June with follow-up sessions has been running for the past year.
Having started under the auspices (and with the support) of the LWV of Schenectady, this program for girls in Schenectady has benefited tremendously from these ties. Many thanks for the support of so many of you.
If you are interested in becoming involved with this dynamic organization at the monthly meeting of the Planning Committee or as a Muse for 7th grade girls in Girls' Circles, contact Kathleen McLean, administrator, at email@example.com, or Miranda Rand, Muse, League member and member of WGGS, at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Submitted by Joanne Tobiessen
Dr. Nichelle Rivers, gave the keynote address on the theme: 'Change Begins with Me; I'll Be the Change.' This is the fourth year that Dr. Rivers has contributed in a major way to our program. She loves the Day and being with the girls so much that she drives up from Long Island where she is Executive Director for School Improvement, Accountability and Funded Programs with the Hempstead Union Free School District. Besides being our keynote speaker, she was our MC and led the arts workshop on Singing.
The girls began the day with breakfast in the ballroom at the Glen Sanders Mansion. In the morning, the girls chose two workshops (out of six). Benita Zahn contributed stories of her experience to the discussion of 'Surviving Seventh Grade & Beyond'. There was a lot of discussion about bullying, fighting, loving yourself and walking away. There was a panel of girls who spoke from their first hand experience as did the attendees.
Other workshops in the morning included 'Mean Girls, Frenemies and BFF's,' 'Lose the 'Tude' about learning to relax in stressful times; and 'Can We Talk? Parents Just Don't Understand' in which Shirley Readdean and Gherian Foster engaged the girls in role play, exploring options for more productive interactions with family.
After a delicious lunch in the ballroom, the girls participated in afternoon arts expression workshops, including Singing, Dance and Hip-Hop, Visual Art, Self Defense, Zumba, Spoken Word, Yoga Movement, and Drumming. After their workshop, they all returned to the ballroom to demonstrate and share what they learned.
The Finale is filled with high energy and excitement. Sponsors attended to join the celebration. Laura Ladd Bierman, from the LWVNYS, supporter of the program through the NYS Education Fund, was there. Larry Spring, Superintendent of schools in Schenectady, was there to praise the program, saluting the volunteers who make this program work, saying that it is "valuable and important for our girls and our community".
Following Girls' Day Out, the participating girls are invited to join a Girls' Circle in their school led by volunteer women who have been trained as 'Muses' to encourage discussion and craft projects that focus girls on self-esteem, taking responsibility for defining themselves, pursuing healthy relationships and exploring future options. Girls can continue in Girls' Circles in 8th grade and into high school.
Many League members have participated on the Planning Committee of the Working Group on Girls as well as contributing as Muses in this program which was started under the auspices of the League of Women Voters of Schenectady.
With grateful thanks to our sponsors: The Schenectady Foundation, The Covenant Fund of the 1st Reformed Church, The Henry M. Butzel Family Foundation, John Picotte Family Foundation, Stewart's Shops, Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson, Schenectady Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers, LWVNYS Education Foundation, Golub Foundation/Price Chopper, Angelo Mazzone, members of the WGG Planning Committee and all of the organizations and individuals who donated gift items.
At the conclusion of each year's Girls' Day Out/Girls' Circle program, we hold a Girls' Celebration Dinner to which participating girls are encouraged to invite a woman they admire as their guest. We hold the dinner and program at Schenectady High School to encourage the girls to be comfortable there and look forward to attending SHS. Diane Wilkinson, the SHS principal, comes to give welcoming remarks.
Last year, we had about 120 in attendance; this year, on April 8th, we had more Girls' Circles (19) and planned for 150-170 girls, their guests, school clinicians, and our Muses (volunteer Circle leaders). We were amazed and delighted when 220 turned out!! We ran out of food, but the positive energy in the room was overwhelming. Schenectady Superintendent Laurence Spring came and spoke of his support and enthusiasm for the program. Girls from each school spoke about what it meant to them to be part of a Girls' Circle.
One seventh grader wrote out her comments after her first year in the program, saying "From Girls' Circle I have learned that, yes I'm different but that's good. I used to be a shy, quiet girl but thanks to Girls' Circle I finally have the courage to talk in front of all of you. I also learned that if people judge you, who cares? Only let you judge you. You're all amazing for showing me that, thank you all for the support and showing me the way to a whole new perspective of who I am, thank you. I have bonded with most of these girls who I never thought I'd be friends [with]. Overall Girls' Circle was the best time of my life. You're all my family. Thanks."
Our high school Circle has three girls graduating; one of them, Theresa Robert, has been with us since the first Girls' Day Out, is in the International Baccalaureate program at SHS and is planning to go into the medical field. She attributes her experience with Girls' Circles as being one of the major keys to her success.
Dr. Nichelle Rivers gave an impassioned keynote address, complete with song, about staying in school and not being seduced by peers and media messages to give up.
Morning workshops focusing on developing relationship skills included 'Lose the 'Tude' introducing girls to strategies to help themselves in times of stress with meditation, mindfulness and yoga. Feedback from the girls was very positive: "This workshop helped me relax & use the movements when I feel stressed or unhappy;" "Thanks for helping with the anger;" "Taught me a lot about keeping calm. Thank you for your time and effort."
The workshop `Surviving Seventh Grade and Beyond' had a panel of girls from the 8th grade into high school who shared their lives as works in process and generated discussion around bullying, fighting, and recognizing their true value. According to one girl, it was "amazing to hear from other people. I thought I was the only one." Another said, "I think this was very helpful. I'm the shy quiet bullied one- you helped a lot."
The `Can We Talk? Parents Just Don't Understand Me' workshop used role-playing to help girls understand their parents, learn how to talk with them and others, and how to make choices.
The afternoon arts expression workshops were lively and full of positive energy. All in all, it was a wonderful, very successful day. As one girl noted, "It was my favorite day of my life!"
Many thanks to the League members who helped with Girls' Day Out, and to our sponsors: The Schenectady Foundation (our primary sponsor), The Henry M. Butzel Family Foundation, Stewart's Shops, Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson, Schenectady Federation of Teachers, Alice Rubenfeld, Catherine Bertini, New York State United Teachers, LWV NYS Education Foundation, Golub Foundation/Price Chopper, Angelo Mazzone and Kulak's Nursery and Landscaping.
Joanne Tobiessen, Chair
The Working Group on Girls is busy working through the summer to prepare for our Fifth Annual Girls' Day Out/Girls' Circle program for middle school and high school girls. Later this summer we will be seeking volunteers to be Muses to conduct Girls' Circles in the coming year. Watch for further information.
Our efforts have been honored by The Schenectady Foundation which has awarded us a two-year grant with probable future funding stating:
"The Schenectady Foundation sees the Working Group on Girls as a critical investment for girls in our community who come from extremely challenging backgrounds. It gives them hope, self-confidence and support to see that they can, in fact, have a dream + and with determination, fulfill it. We are leveraging the wellspring of passion and skill of trained, committed women volunteers who mentor and guide the girls through a very difficult time in their lives. Relationships are developed with the potential to have life-long impact. The Schenectady Foundation is matching other contributions to Working Group on Girls because we believe it to be a vital component of what these girls need as a resource to have a shot at success in school, and beyond."
Joanne Tobiessen, Chair