By Joyce DeWallace, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Thirty-four young women ages 11 to 14 enjoyed the opportunities provided by the “You Go Girl” summer program organized by Shrewsbury Youth and Family Services (Y&FS) that was held at the First Congregational Church. They did it all – from fun crafts and activities to a bake sale that raised over $500 for the “Friends with Heart,” a local organization that helps families with children suffering from heart defects.
Y&FS Executive Director Jeffrey Chin explained the goal of the “You Go Girl” program.
“Girls come in with low self-esteem. You can see them blossom and gain self-confidence. The goal of our program is to learn leadership and team skills.”
You Go Girl was designed to mix different girls and expose them to real-life positive role models and activities that promote a positive life style.
“There are too many negative role models like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears; they send bad messages to girls,” Chin said. “Too often we see that girls had been forming unhealthy cliques with lots of intolerance.”
Erika Puccio was this year's program coordinator. Puccio, a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut, is starting a master's degree in family therapy at UMass-Boston.
“Everyone can gain something from our program,” Puccio said. “They meet other groups of girls and see other career options. Our goal is to spread a positive message.”
A number of committed sponsors make the program possible with both financial support and as role models. The Women's Initiative of the United Way is a major source of funding. Kim Long, a certified image consultant, did mini-makeovers followed by a photo shoot in her Northborough studio. The girls learned about clothing, styling, make-up and wardrobe selection. Her message was that beauty is a matter of confidence and how you carry yourself, not just the makeup or clothes you are wearing and that everyone is beautiful in her own way.
Another real-life role model was Realtor and businesswoman Barbara Heisler, who talked about “How Can You Be Successful?” As the first woman president of the Shrewsbury Rotary Club, she exemplifies the concept that women can excel at anything they set their minds to and that there are no barriers to achievement.
Also on hand were a Zumba instructor who showed the girls that exercise can be fun and that young women can stay healthy without dieting or sports just by trying new activities. And the Shrewsbury Fire Department taught the girls about safety and other career options on a visit and tour of the Fire Station. At Paint Your Own Pottery in Northborough, the group learned a new craft as they created colorful ice cream bowls.
The event also featured a photo scavenger hunt in Dean Park. The middle school students learned to work together, promoting leadership and team skills. They tie-dyed T-shirts, baked all sorts of goodies, made posters and set up a booth on the Town Common for their fund-raiser.
All this activity kept the girls busy and very enthusiastic. One participant wrote on her evaluation that “It helps you get out of your comfort zone.”
Another said, “The program was a positive experience because it was fun, and I learned a lot about teamwork.”
Parent Mary Farina thought that the program was valuable.
“Keep going with this,” she said. “It is so important for this age to get a safe place like this to open up and know you'se not alone.”
Puccio and Chin felt that the girls formed positive friendships and relationships and were introduced to successful women to see what they can become. The program provided a safe environment for the young women to learn new skills while becoming aware of the value of giving back to the community as part of a team for a common goal.
If anyone is interested in helping expand the You Go Girl program, Chin has a laundry list of needs.
“We always need more financial help; we could use more volunteers to be mentors or guest speakers. We would love more cooks. We always need donated art supplies, and, of course, we would love people with a special skill or talent that would benefit our girls.”
To learn more about this youth development program and the other services offered by Shrewsbury Y&FS, call 508-845-6932 or visit www.syfs-ma.org.