For most young people, middle school is an incredibly difficult time. Many students find themselves stuck in survival mode as their lives are flipped upside down. Everything is changing. Changing schools. Changing bodies. Changing faith. Changing friends. Changing interests. Changing responsibilities. And this is just the beginning.
In the midst of all the change and uncertainty, middle schoolers are looking for a place to belong. Students from all walks of life are searching for value and acceptance, trying desperately to find their purpose and identity.
Some would advise students turn to their parents for direction. However, many parents are not present, are unaware, or are unable to help their children. So many students seek out teachers and counselors. But, teachers and counselors are becoming increasingly overwhelmed. With classes of 18-25 students they have limited time and resources to give during the day.
Therefore, programs like GirlPower step in to encourage and support students as they transition into high school.
Springfield City Youth Mission’s (SCYM) GirlPower is specifically designed for middle school girls in grades seventh and eighth. The after-school program seeks to empower young girls to create healthy spiritual, educational, mental, social, and physical habits in order to set them up for success in high school and eventually adulthood.
GirlPower leader, Jessica Hanely, explains that the overarching goal of GirlPower is to create a safe space to build relationships and encourage thriving followers of Christ. GirlPower walks alongside young girls as they discover their identity in Christ while providing hope and sharing God’s love each step of the way.
Meeting once a week at various local churches, the program is actively reaching young ladies from Roosevelt, Hayward, and Schaefer as well as various county schools. However, Jessica believes meeting once a week is just the beginning.
“Meeting once a week for two hours is not enough which is why we intentionally do it at local churches,” said Jessica. “We want to connect the girls to a local church in their neighborhood so that they can build relationships with volunteers and have a reliable support system in their backyard.”
Jessica hopes to see GirlPower bridge the gap between urban youth and the local church. One way to accomplish this is to have local churches partner with SCYM to host the program each week and build relationships with the girls who attend.
“Sometimes it’s just being present and letting the girls know that someone cares about them,” Jessica said.
Regardless of the day or location, GirlPower intentionally fosters an environment where each girl is known by name. The students need relationships more than almost anything else, says Jessica Hanely. They need to know that someone cares about them and that they are valued and loved by our heavenly Father. That’s why we are here.
Each day, the GirlPower program covers five areas: Unplug, Unwind, PowerPoint, Mindful Munchies, and Rap-up.
Unplug: When girls attend GirlPower they unplug from the rest of the world. Phones are turned in, computers and tablets turned off, and the noise from the digital and physical world are set aside. Leaders purposefully create an environment to shut out the distractions of everyday life and ensure that each girl is fully present during GirlPower.
Unwind: Girls are encouraged to unwind and relax. When they arrive, each girl receives a pair of cozy socks and a mug for tea or coffee. Then, whether it is photography, puzzles, and friendship bracelets, candles, music, or drawing, each girl chooses an activity that allows them to unwind and relax in order to enter into a renewed mental space.
Power Point: Power Point is a time set aside to share God’s love and remind the girls of their value and identity in Christ and each week, leaders focus on a different topic.
Recently, GirlPower focused on ‘The Lies We Tell Ourselves.’ Girls were asked to write down what others say about them and they took time to consider what they believe to be true about themselves. Many of the girls wrote down negative words and descriptions that were degrading and self-destructive. The group was then asked, “Who does God say you are?” The responses were Child of God, Redeemed, Friend of God, Accepted, Beautiful, Kind, Princess, Chosen, Valuable, Unique, Powerful, Unstoppable, Courageous, and so many more.
The lies that were written were ripped up and discarded as leaders prayed God’s truth over the girls. Many girls were overwhelmed by the moment and Jessica recalls tears of joy as God’s love and truth-filled the girls’ hearts.
Moments like this seek to provide the girls with a new perspective of themselves while reinforcing their value in Christ.
Mindful Munchies: Before leaving for the day, girls are encouraged to have fun making healthy snacks. During this time, GirlPower encourages nutritional mindfulness and reminds the girls that God values our physical health and asks us to take care of our bodies. Throughout the year, GirlPower also takes field trips to the local YMCA and hosts an annual 5K to teach girls about exercise and healthy activities.
Rap-Up: Girls “rap-up” the night with a fun yet powerful way of remembering that day’s Power Point. From raps and dances to cheers and chants, Rap-Up encourages fun and laughter while still focusing on God’s love and truth.
To learn more about GirlPower, contact Jessica Hanely at SCYM.
Springfield City Youth Mission (SCYM)
Executive Director: Tyler Worley
GirlPower Director: Jessica Hanley