Let’s all agree that fostering self-esteem in at-risk girls is a good thing.

Fine. But how do we do it?

The Junior League of Reading has come up with a very cool program to engage a diverse group of young women from Reading and Berks County in a meaningful dialogue that will expand their developmental assets, cultivate their leadership skills, and empower them to make a difference in their community through civic engagement and the creation of a community project.

The program is the Young Women’s Summit, a two-day, professionally facilitated workshop for at-risk girls in grades 6 through 8 in four local public schools.

At the end of the Summit, the girls will have identified their personal strengths and defined the focus area on which their community project will be based. JLR will then work with these young women through a series of four weekly planning sessions to help implement their vision – their project – in the community.

An unexpected highlight of the 2014 Summit was an invitation for the participants to travel to Harrisburg for a “Day at the Capital.” The event was hosted by Senator Judy Schwank, who represents Reading and Berks County and who counts herself a big supporter of JLR’s multi-year effort aimed at improving the self-esteem of young women and encouraging them to become leaders in their communities.

What’s particularly interesting about the Summit is its underlying vision: Create a process that moves these young women away from being objects of programs towards being the creators of a resource to positively impact the communities they live in.

What kind of projects?

  • 2012 (the Summit’s inaugural year): A poster campaign for elementary school children addressing the high level of violence in the community and providing positive messages. To date, over 300 posters are on display throughout the county and teachers use the posters as conversation starters with students to encourage positive “asset building.”
  • 2013: A Public Service Announcement video to decrease student bullying by raising self-esteem. The message has reached over 1,200 people and is also used by guidance counselors as a learning tool during school programming.
  • 2014: A one-day Rally for Peace to build a sense of community and to bring neighborhoods together in awareness of peace and safety. The girls planned and led games and activities with a focus on creating a safe and friendly environment for participating families. They also created a safety banner with matching safety tip sheets for distribution at area schools.

Each one of these projects was chosen and initiated by the Summit participants themselves and is designed to involve other young people in the community in positive ways.

As Senator Schwank posted on her Facebook page after hosting the summit participants earlier this month, “The future is bright indeed if these girls are in charge!”