By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Zumba music blares from the program room of the Morinville Community Library as more than a dozen girls between the ages of 11 and 18 learn about themselves in a fun way. The Girls in Real Life Situations (GIRLS) program started Oct. 2 and will run for the next five Tuesday evenings, offering young women an opportunity to become more comfortable with who they are in a society that too often tells them they shouldn’t be.
Rebecca Holland, who provides community resources for the Sturgeon School Division, is co-facilitator of the GIRLS program. She is joined by Alana Mantai in offering the seven-week program, one which both facilitators see as a personal obligation. “We can never go wrong by investing in our communities’ youth,” Holland said.
With a change in staffing within Morinville’s youth worker / Family and Community Support Services program, Holland said Sturgeon School Division felt they could be of assistance in offering what they see as important programming for young women. “A GIRLS group was being offered, but there was no one to run it,” she said. “Seeing the need, and [because] it was a program I’d already introduced in a number of schools, I figured it would work here.”
Holland began her role with the school division this past March and quickly saw there was a need for this type of programming. “It was something we just continually saw a need about,” she said, adding the topic came up in all of her initial school visits. “A lot of them talked about that relationship, healthy youth, body image, self-esteem; the things everybody seems to struggle with in life.”
The program addresses self-esteem and body image, something Holland and Mantai feel are crucial topics for young women in the program’s age group. “We talk about fears and bullying and lots of things that are happening that makes it very hard to be a teenage girl,” Holland explained. “We talk about the media. We talk about how media influences how we have relationships with people – what we are supposed to look like, what we eat, how we dance, what we wear. There’s a lot of social pressure, and so we talk about that and about owning who you are. We talk about self-esteem, loving yourself and being okay with who you are at this moment.”
The focus of the program is not solely on self and self-image. Holland said the program looks at strong female role models and the attributes that make them strong women, strong mentors and strong leaders. Once defined, the attributes are compared to those the young women themselves possess.
Program likely to be repeated and expanded
Holland said she has already been approached to offer the program again and even offering it to younger girls. She said there would need to be a discussion with the Town of Morinville prior to that going ahead; however, she believes the program is one every girl would benefit from. “I think every girl needs to go through something like this,” she said, adding girls under 11 need to be reached as well. “It’s a really tough age. There are some staggering stats around kids under the age of nine who have already tried their first diet. Talking about body image and peer pressure at the age of nine years old.”
Holland said there is evidence to show young girls are struggling with eating disorders because they do not look like their role models or as a result of competition among their peers to be liked. “We see it more and more, and I think when we put social media into the mix it just makes it that much harder because it’s always in your face,” she said. “It’s about how many friends you have. It’s about who will friend you on Facebook.”
In addition to Morinville, Holland is offering the program in Bon Accord, Gibbons and Redwater. The Morinville program is open to and has youth from throughout Sturgeon County taking part.
Contact Nick Valcourt at 780-939-7839 for more information about the Morinville program.