Being 12 is not easy. Being 12 and a girl is really not easy.
Going from childhood into adolescence is a time when everything changes—your body, your peer group, your priorities, everything.
Rajni Kumar, an elementary school Child & Youth Care Worker, knows all too well the struggles young girls face in her school’s hallways.
“The biggest challenges girls face in our school are being afraid to speak up, changing who they are to fit into a norm, and not being able to empower one another,” she said. “The girls try to fit in to popular cliques by not being true to themselves and at times find it easier to put another girl down than build her up.”
At Big Sisters, we hear from many schools that their students are struggling with these same issues.
Children at this age crave acceptance and without the tools to do otherwise, often turn to bullying, gossip, and cliques to help them fit in. The Big Sisters Go Girls! program helps girls overcome these pressures by building the necessary confidence and self-awareness to thrive. This eight-week group mentoring program for girls aged 10 to 14 promotes active lifestyles, balanced eating, and building self-esteem. Rajni has her fifth Go Girls! term coming up this winter and believes that group mentoring can reverse these negative patterns.
“There are so many positive and long lasting changes I see in the girls who complete the program,” she said. “They have much more self-confidence, self-awareness, and empathy; are ready and able to help other girls; feel more connected to their school; and are more willing to participate in activities during recess and lunch. Plus, the girls who complete this program are more than ready to try roles of leadership and aren’t afraid to voice their opinions.”
Rajni attributes these changes in large part to the hard working volunteers who spend their time mentoring her students.
The Big Sisters’ experienced coordinators train, guide, and support these volunteers every step of the way so that they can effectively lead the participants to positive growth.
“Time and time again, the volunteer mentors have been wonderful!” said Rajni. “I feel connected to them just as much as the program participants. The process Big Sisters has in place to ensure the volunteer mentors are well suited for the program is great.”
Rajni initially started the Go Girls! program in her school in 2016
because she recognized it provides her students with a sense of belonging, helps them become more confident individuals, and teaches about leading healthy lifestyles. All of these aspects, she said, are crucial for impressionable youth. She especially noticed the impact in one of the girls who had just began to stay in a care home.
“Last year, we had a new student at the school who was very quiet, shy, and unsure of many things,” she explained. “As the weeks progressed of her being in Go Girls!, it was as if she was a new youth. She would say hi to everyone in the hallways, she would play tag at recess and lunch, and the connections she made with the girls in the group turned into strong friendships.”
Rajni believes that having mentors to inform, guide, and present alternative ways of living healthy lifestyles and to help youth be themselves is incredibly important—and often overlooked.
“I would definitely recommend the Go Girls! program to other schools,” she said.
“There is so much pressure to look and be a certain way in society and social media. The ages of grade six and seven girls are such an impressionable time and you want to use that time wisely. Go Girls! is such a unique program and so beneficial for these girls. Seeing how confident and connected they feel to themselves and others is such a rewarding experience.”