Girls In The Know, is a 2019 and 2021 SOS grantee. They are dedicated to educating and empowering girls, together with those who love them, by providing tools to establish a strong sense of self. We hope you are inspired by these real life impact stories.
Chelsea didn’t like the way the other girl was looking at her, so she snapped, “What’s your problem?!?!”
She shoved past the girl, barely noticing the hurt expression she left in her wake.
It was one of many small interactions at school that day, all of which were building a dark, grey cloud around the preteen girl.
There was the friend who she decided to shut out at lunchtime. And the indignant look she gave her teacher when asked for her input on a reading lesson.
She was more than just grumpy; something was eating away at her. But she was far from identifying the source of her anger. She barely noticed she was acting that way at all.
At least, not until she was back within the safe space of the Girls In The Know program.
Girls In The Know, a St. Louis area non-profit, brings four-week empowerment workshops to preteen girls in the region’s communities and schools, covering topics such as internet safety, healthy friendships, positive body image and more.
It’s more than just a speaker series.
The fact-based programming also acts as a warm hug to impressionable, young girls who are on the brink of big change as they go through their teens. They will face changes to their bodies, to their social worlds, to their boundaries and abilities – the list goes on.
Girls In The Know steps in before the girls realize they’ll even need the help. It’s a preemptive strike, if you will, against the challenges of being a teen.
So when there is trouble, the tools are there. Just like they were for Chelsea.
Chelsea found her way through the problem just by having people she could talk to and trust.
She discussed her bad day at one of the Girls In The Know sessions, and with the help of those around her, she identified the source of her moodiness and anxiety.
Chelsea acknowledged that she was being bullied due to her biracial background.
And that bullying, she eventually discovered, was causing her to redirect animosity onto others.
Chelsea met with a school counselor and they came up with a plan to address the problem.
The solution was rather simple – seek out older biracial girls who could act as mentors and help her navigate the challenges she was encountering – but the results were impactful.
Not only did Chelsea’s school days get brighter, but so did those of the girls around her.
“We understand that the girls are going through many struggles right now with their lives,” explained Alice Davis-Wiley, program manager of the organization’s school-based programs. “Our goal is to give them the ability to help with those challenges of just being a girl.”
The challenges of which she speaks can loom large, especially for girls in their teenage years. This is particularly true in today’s fast-paced, high-tech world.
The organization notes:
Girls In The Know, a Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund grantee, tries to dismantle these statistics with one loud and confident message: “I am enough.”
They want each girl to know, “Who I am is enough, what I do is enough, and what I have is enough.”
It’s all rooted in the belief that fact-based knowledge and open communication can change lives.
“It’s so huge for us to have that positive impact, to give them that fact-based information now, so they don’t make unhealthy decisions in the future,” Davis-Wiley said.
In 2009, Lori Lander was trying to find just that kind of positive and impactful messaging for her three daughters, as they approached the difficult teenage years.
But she struggled to find one organization that spoke directly to preteen girls and hit all the important notes, whether speaking about physical health or social connections or pubescent growth.
So she decided to build an organization of her own.
Lander was determined to connect pre-teen girls with trusted adults, and to find ways to openly communicate through all of life’s thorny issues.
She was able to find partners in the community who shared her vision.
St. Luke’s Hospital agreed to provide facilities, and a slew of professional speakers climbed on board to help deliver the message: from police officers to school counselors, psychologists, social workers, licensed nutritionists and OB-GYNs.
From there, the four-week workshop series was born.
In the 10 years since its start, the organization has served 2,500 pre-teens and adults. Just last year, Girls In The Know served 1,000 girls.
Corporate sponsorships are growing. The organization has expanded to Chicago, and has plans to broaden its reach nationally. It also wants to bring more efforts to underserved communities.
More recently, Girls In The Know announced an ambitious goal of serving 10,000 girls per year by 2029.
It’s a big challenge, driven by a lofty vision.
“Every life that we can positively affect today, increases the chance of a positive future,” Davis-Wiley said. “It’s generational change. Because the girls are the ones who will pass this on.”
Girls In The Know’s community-based programs are paid sessions offered to teens and their chosen adult.
The school-based programming, however, is free of cost and serves under-resourced populations in a classroom setting.
The latter is what the SOS grant will help fund.
“SOS is basically sponsoring our girls so they can have an opportunity to have this type of programming as well,” Davis-Wiley said. “Without this funding, our girls may not be able to attend a session.”
Each week presents a new topic, with a new female expert. A social worker leads the empowerment session; a registered and licensed dietician leads the healthy body image session; a St. Louis police officer leads the safety session; and a physician, typically an OB-GYN, leads the session on puberty.
Davis-Wiley said this matching of female experts with the chosen topics is something that is unique to the organization.
Further, puberty health education is not currently offered to elementary aged girls in St. Louis Public Schools.
Thanks to the support of organizations like SOS, Girls In The Know can provide this programming to schools at no charge, targeting underserved girls who might not otherwise have access to the critical information that the speakers provide.
Dr. Kelvin Adams, Superintendent of Schools at St. Louis Public Schools recently wrote in support of the Girls In The Know partnership:
“St. Louis Public Schools values our partnership with Girls in the Know and understands the critical role they fulfill in providing puberty education to our elementary-aged girls. For many young girls, the critical information Girls in the Know provides is their only source. Having fact-based, medically accurate information empowers our girls to make healthy and confident decisions as they grow and ultimately become our leaders of tomorrow. We are grateful for the generosity of our community that makes Girls in the Know programming available to our girls.”
The sessions are 60 to 90 minutes long and build upon the running theme of empowerment and developing a strong sense of self. There is an emphasis on finding a trusted adult for each girl, whether it is a parent, teacher, coach or anyone else.
The sessions are interactive, both to encourage open communication and keep the girls engaged. There is role playing, movement and more.
And the girls get to talk about things that otherwise might be considered taboo in a classroom setting. That’s meant to prepare them for the future, so they can openly discuss their challenges when they do encounter them.
For example, sexting. It’s a phenomena that many parents may be squeamish about addressing. But in the safety session, it is a big topic because teens are encountering it way more than adults realize.
By preemptively discussing sexting, the police officer can explain the harm and even the legal risks. Hopefully, the girl would then have those things in mind if she were to ever encounter an inappropriate image. And she’d have a trusted adult who she could report it to.
Davis-Wiley said that type of proactive messaging is exactly what the organization hopes to achieve, with each and every session.
She explained, “I really feel this is an age where if you catch them just right, they will listen, and it can totally change their future.”
* Some names and details have been altered to protect the identity of clients.
Narrative developed for Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund by Bethany Prange of 618 Creative. Photos provided by 618 Creative and The SoulFisher Ministries.