Program helps girls with stress
By Kim Walter -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Over the past eight weeks, Carly Heiston has found that sometimes all you need to escape the everyday drama and stress, is a good group of friends -- and a day at the spa doesn't hurt either.
Carly, a 12-year-old sixth-grader at Warren County Middle School, is one of about 50 girls that attended the Wings to Empowerment program, a twice a week after-school meeting from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m., specifically for the school's girls.
The program, which began in early February, is operated by several teachers at the middle school, as well as the director of the school's Youth Enrichment Program, Holly Goode.
Normally, each meeting consists of a discussion period on the week's main topic, followed by 45 minutes of some kind of physical activity. Last week's theme was self-care, and on Tuesday a yoga instructor taught a class.
Thursday was a little different for the girls, as they were treated to a spa day, complete with foot, detox and hand spas, as well as facials, painted nails and smoothies.
"This was my favorite. ... I liked the facial," Carly said. She hasn't missed a single day of the program.
The program has focused on several topics including healthy relationships, respect, self esteem and body image.
"This is the age when they need to talk about these things," said sixth-grade counselor Addie Jones. Jones said she was surprised by how much a program like Wings to Empowerment is needed for middle school-aged girls.
"Having all the girls together makes a big difference. They don't feel like they have to act for anyone," Jones said.
When the program first came together, Jones said she hoped that they would get lucky and have 15 girls sign up. However, 50 girls showed up to the first meeting.
That number has decreased since track season has started at the school, Goode said, and now they see an average of 43 girls at each session.
The big turnout has been good for getting the girls to make new friends, Goode said.
"The initial survey that we gave to the girls told us that what they wanted to do was make friends," she said. During discussion time, Goode says the girls break up into smaller groups, preferably ones that don't include a girl's everyday group of friends.
Goode explained that whatever is said during the discussion periods, stays there.
"It's unconditional. They are really starting to trust us and open up. ... they just want someone to listen," she said.
Kasey Keckley, a counselor at Warren County High School, helped out with the spa day, and it was her first experience with the program.
"We certainly don't try to come off as perfect," Keckley said of the women volunteers and leaders. "The girls are at that awkward age. Middle school years are the hardest for girls, and they just really need interaction."
Sharon Fletcher, a paraeducator at the middle school, has helped with several of the program's meetings.
"It gives you a different view of the girls. And it's nice that they are seeing me as fun," Fletcher said.
Fletcher has also helped with leading a walking group for the program. The girls are training every week, by walking or running, to prepare for Heidi's Hope 5k Run on May 19.
The program requires nothing from the girls besides parent's permission and filling out a few release forms. Goode said the program had no money until recently when the Front Royal Women's Resource Center gave them a $1,000 grant to go towards empowering girls.
"It fit us perfectly," Goode said, and added that there are already plans to continue the program next school year.
"It's better than my normal day at school. It helps me get away from things," Carly said on why she enjoys the program. "It helps you respect yourself, who you are ... it just helps me."