This past May, thirteen (13) junior high school girls, their parents, mentors, YWCA Cambridge staff, and City of Cambridge officials gathered together in city hall to celebrate the conclusion of yet another successful semester of the Girls Only Leadership Development (GOLD) program.
We spent seven (7) months exploring a variety of topics, from self-defense to financial literacy to the making of a podcast. The young women of GOLD culminated their experiences with a graduation ceremony, broadcasting the podcast they’d created during their workshops with the American Repertory Theatre.
With their certificates of completion in hand, they were invited on stage to shake hands with YWCA Cambridge Executive Director Eva Martin Blythe, Councilwoman Simmons, and GOLD Coordinator Amanda Okaka. After all of the well wishes, were completed, one young woman made her way over to the microphone, took a deep breath, and exhaled a small “thank you” before running off stage; many of the girls in the program giggled to themselves, but all of them also nodded knowingly.
In speaking with the GOLD participants, it becomes apparent that the exchange during the closing ceremony was indicative of many of their experiences. Young women participating in GOLD are invited, encouraged and supported to step out of their comfort zones; whether it’s in the form of public speaking or learning about taxes, they learn to do something that challenges their vision of who they are and what they’re capable of doing or becoming. One participant described her experience when remarking on her favorite workshop- self-defense, saying “it felt weird and new but I also felt a little more safe and experienced after.” GOLD teaches young girls not only to be OK with a healthy dose of discomfort, but to flourish in it and grow from it, turning their uncertainty into empowerment.
GOLD introduces its participants to new friends, informs them of sexism in the media, and helps them to start seeing themselves as strong independent young women, through their relationships with older mentors. GOLD also teaches skills that will help young girls enter high school as strong, intelligent young women, ready to take on the world.
GOLD Registration is now open for volunteers and 8th grade girls! Sign up today.
Written by: Mia Kania, Forest Foundation Intern at YWCA Cambridge