Girls In Progress (GIP) is a youth development program that incorporates mentoring, community leadership exposure, the arts, and emotional and physical wellness for at-risk girls. This program was developed in partnership with the Academic Opportunities for Success (AOS) Linkage Coordinator for Newark City middle schools. GIP is based on the findings that the more time spent mentoring the female at-risk student population, the better empowered these girls will be to succeed in high school, as well as make healthy and informed life choices that will give them a strong foundation and a positive future.
The girls are identified for inclusion in the program based on low school performance, personal and emotional struggle, and many are in generational poverty. Many lack financial resources and supportive, affirming home environments. GIP gives support and mentorship to young women who are trying to find their footing on their own. Mental Health America of Licking County (MHALC) staff meets in the schools two to three times each week with the students, providing inspiration, motivation, and compassion to girls that do not have this type of support at home. Critical conversations about identity, self-esteem, body image, future hopes and plans, healthy relationships, aspects of poverty and financial literacy, anger management, wellness and mental health take place along with times of creating through needle arts and art journaling. Monthly “exposure” trips introduce the girls to strong female professionals in our community who demonstrate the courage, discipline, and passion that it takes to forge a life of purpose and meaning. Leadership qualities are discussed and explored.
Some exposure trips have included the Columbus Museum of Art with special emphasis on women in the arts and the life of local artist Aminah Robinson, a visit to the Licking County Municipal Courts and time spent with Marcia J. Phelps, Licking County Municipal Court Clerk. We spent time with a passionate and energetic entrepreneur who runs a successful pet grooming service in Columbus. Our most recent trip was to the Licking County Sheriff’s office to meet with two women, a deputy and a high ranking detective, both with powerful life stories of adversity and perseverance.
This is the second year of the program, and the feedback from the Newark City Schools has been very positive, allowing for a second school program to be added in January of 2015. The Linkage Coordinator for the two middle schools hosting GIP has reported improvement in the areas of self-esteem, attendance, behavior, and academics, as well as an increased bond and support system between the girls in the program.
It is MHALC’s hope that Girls In Progress can provide this mentoring program to all three middle schools in the Newark City Schools, as well as in Newark High School. Our future vision includes following the middle school participants through high school, and encouraging them to volunteer and give back to new middle school girls following them in GIP.