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Helping girls help themselves

Veronica Whitney
Two girls work together on an activity at a recent Blossom teambuilding session.
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A dozen girls, half blindfolded and half playing mute, sat on the floor of the Berry Creek Middle School gym on a recent November morning, trying to make a crescent moon with a tape.

While not obvious to the outside viewer, the activity had a purpose.

“The bottom line is team working and learning to work together when you have limitations,” said Blair Young, an organizer of Blossom, a Meet the Wilderness program designed to help prevent self-esteem issues in local girls. “It’s giving voice to the girls’ values.”

According to Young, when girls get into middle school, alliances with girlfriends start to breakdown and change, as well as their confidence in their own abilities.

Another trend adults have noticed: there are a lot of Eagle County girls who have had sex and tried drugs and alcohol.

“From the Meet the Wilderness point of view, all this boiled down to lack of self esteem,” said Tom McCalden, the grants specialist for Meet The Wilderness, a local nonprofit that aims to help young people.

By helping young girls feel better about themselves, the program organizers hope to reverse the trend.

Eagle County girls, like their peers across the country, generally don’t feel that great about themselves. For example, surveys done by the teen advocacy group, the Eagle River Youth Coalition, show:

– 43 percent of females (17 percent of males) feel fat or overweight – only 14 percent actually are overweight.

– 42 percent have engaged in sexual activities, most often in combination with drugs and alcohol.

– More girls than boys (28 percent versus 20 percent) have felt so depressed that have considered suicide – 17 percent of girls have made a suicide attempt (7 percent for boys).

“Our programs are proven to stimulate the development of self-esteem, trust, personal responsibility, communication, and leadership skills,” McCalden said.

The local nonprofit, helped by a grant from the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, is offering again this fall the Blossom program ” aimed at building leadership and character among sixth-grade girls at Berry Creek Middle School.

As part of the program, a group of girls went rock climbing in October and participated in a teambuilding challenges session, like the blindfolded exercises, at the school in November. This month, the group will go on a two-day trip to a mountain hut. The hope? That the experience will help the girls build some inner strength through confronting and overcoming winter challenges such as snowshoeing and hut management. Evening discussions about the choices and challenges of everyday life also are part of the agenda.

“At this age, it is more preventive work,” Young said during a break in the teambuilding challenges session. “Last year, we worked on identifying what their values are.”

According to Jenna Bartosz, who also works in the Blossom program, sixth-grade children struggle with the choices they are starting to have to make.

“We found out that the time we spend together brings them together and have brought them to middle school more prepared to combat relationship issues that come up,” she said.

When some of her friends have low self-esteem problems, 11-year-old Bailey Garton said she has the perfect solution.

“I invite them over to my house and we give them a makeover and they look at themselves differently,” said Bailey, a participant in the program.

Bailey said the Meet the Wilderness program has brought all the girls who participate a lot closer.

“We do groups with other girls and become good friends,” she added. “Friends are important because they’re there for me. If I’d be in trouble, I’d call my friends for help.”

Eleven-year-old Aubrey Jaramillo said she believes in the importance of communication. Aubrey, who lives in Edwards, said she talks a lot with her parents and friends.

“Sometimes, we can get in arguments with my parents, but we connect a lot,” said Aubrey who also participates in the Blossom program. “It makes me feel more confident. I get a lot of ideas from my mom’s past. She tells me a lot of the stuff that she did wrong when she was younger so I learn from her.”


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