By Chevont’e Alexander
Beyonce’s infamous words of strength, encouragement, and empowerment of females is the same message Kia Chalmers, co-founder of Girls Can, wants to teach our young girls and ladies in the Richmond community. But, these encouraging words and images of strong women are often lost in the media and the images young girls are exposed to today are typically a negative portrayal of Black women. In fall 2009, after moving away from the area and then coming back to Richmond with a “fresh set of eyes”, Chalmers was concerned with the state of Richmond youth, and the challenges girls face growing up in the Richmond community. As a mother of a daughter, she was concerned about the future of girls and wondered what she could do to make a difference. It was important for young Black girls to see a strong representation of women of color. After back and forth conversation and growing concerns, Kia Chalmers joined forces with five friends, Jetheda Hernandez, Marilyn Freeman, Keisha Mercer, and Dr. Shaunna Payne Gold, most of them being graduates of Richmond Public Schools, to start a non profit organization focusing on programs to address the various issues with girls. As five successful, professional women, raised in Richmond, they felt as if it was their duty to share their knowledge and experiences to help educate the next generation of women. In September 2010, Girls Win, Inc. DBA Girls Can was established.
Girls Can currently serves middle school girls, ages 11 to 14, in Richmond and surrounding areas. To participate in the program, each girl completes an essay describing her life, influences, and challenges to give the staff an idea of what programs may be best. In 2011, the program served 30 girls (98 % – African-American and 2% – Latino-American). Each camper is then matched with a mentor. Extra curricular activities, like bowling and attending collegiate games, are scheduled to enhance the relationship between mentors and mentees. The program year culminates with a social gathering to highlight the achievements of both the mentors and mentees throughout the year. Upon completion of the program, campers become Girls Can Alumni and can participate in the program as peer facilitators, peer mentors and assist with special events.
Girls Can Programs
Girls Can activities are planned with principles of self-awareness, self-identity, independent thinking and also civic responsibility in mind. During 2011, each day of the week had a designated theme. Monday encompassed the theme “I AM.” Activities were designed to have the girls think intently on the person that they are currently. After introductions and skit outlying different social situations faced by young girls, the girls were invited to explore their inner selves through examination of their familial relationships.
On Tuesday, the girls explored the concept of “I DON’T WANT TO BE”. The girls explored topics that are in direct opposition to the personal, emotional, and social characteristics that they value the most. The topics included bullying, drugs/alcohol, and knowing one’s body. The day culminated with a workshop called “Walking in Positivity”. This workshop provided resources to overcome adversities that they may face now or in the future utilizing a positive attitude. Wednesday’s theme was “I HELP OTHERS TO BE”, focusing on community service. Camp organizers were dedicated to promoting a sense of civic responsibility in the girls.
Thursday’s theme was “I WANT TO BE.” This day was designed to demonstrate to the participants that there were no limits on what they could achieve in the future. The campers attended sessions on college prep, which allowed them to focus on their educational future. They also engaged in self-expression through music for the girls who had artistic abilities.
On Friday, the girls explored what “I CAN BE”. On this day, the girls engaged presenters on proper and acceptable attire for different social and professional situations; they attended an etiquette session and rounded off the day with goal setting activities.
The Future of Girls Can
The 2012 summer camp will be filled with amazing, life altering experiences that will include a day in real life at the Junior Achievement Finance Park, a day at Virginia legislature, and a trip to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.
We invite all rising 7, 8, and 9th grade girls in the Richmond metro area to submit an application for one of the 40 spaces we have available this summer. Applications are accepted until the end of May. Registration is $40.
For more information on summer camp registration, please visit www.girlscanonline.org.
This year, Girls Can will incorporate many of the themes and lessons learned from a documentary called “Miss Representation”. Through a relationship with Virginia Delegate, Jennifer McClellan, they plan to introduce and expose the girls to leaders in the community. Giving them an opportunity to meet their representative and also hear how Richmond is advocating for women and girls. The girls will also be trained on ways to get their voice heard and become their own advocates for their schools and their community.
“We are extremely fortunate for all of our partnerships and the support we have received over the past two and a half years in the Richmond community. We hope that as the camp grows, even more businesses and organizations will support our efforts and the concerns and struggles of girls in the Richmond Metro area,” says Jetheda Hernandez, Girls Can founder.