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Gwen’s Girls Story – Ashley

My name is Ashley and I am a former Gwen’s Girl. Gwen’s Girls is very welcoming and supportive. The first time I came, I was in Gwen’s Girls for about a week. I was about 6 months pregnant and all the staff and other girls there were very supportive. Even though I wanted to be home with my family, I enjoyed being around other teen girls going through the same problems as me.

About three months after I came back home, I was put into Shuman Center. My mother did not want me to go back home and I said if I could, I would like to go back to Gwen’s Girls. At this time, I was 9.5 months pregnant.

At Gwen’s Girls, Ms. Shelly helped me set up all my doctors’ appointments and get everything I needed. The staff made sure I was well taken care of. Also, Ms. Shelly helped me get into a program to get my G.E.D.

When I went into labor, I was still at the group home. I was nervous at first because I wasn’t with my family, but the staff helped me out a lot. Ms. C took me to the hospital and even waited with me until my family got there. After I left the hospital, I had to go back to Gwen’s Girls. Ms. C picked me up. She had moved me into another room and helped me with all my things when we got back there. She was very helpful and supported me with all my family issues. She was the best! I was at Gwen’s Girls for about three more weeks after I had my daughter. Everyone was very helpful and I really appreciated it. I came home, but I sometimes miss being there because I got so used to them.

Being at Gwen’s Girls taught me a lot. It made me realize I shouldn’t anything for granted. I learned to appreciate my family and the support I have around me because not everyone has that. They had taught me to be more independent and do more things on my own. I’m very thankful for the things I’ve learned from being there. I guess what I’m trying to say is Gwen’s Girls is a great place and they helped me with some important things in my life!

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Love Languages

This week, the G.I.R.L.S. Club had a self-esteem speaker come in and talk with the girls about “love languages” and affirmation. This is an important factor for young girls because they often struggle with knowing how to get their needs met, and how to meet the needs of others, in both romantic and non-romantic relationships.

The speaker asked the girls to take a quiz on their love language, and all the results pointed to the girls having a high need for affirmation. The speaker explained that what these results told her was that the girls had a need for hearing encouraging and loving words. The speaker said that girls who score high in the affirmation division often give out affirmative responses to their friends and loved ones, and asked if this was true of our girls. To which the girls responded that they did.

However, when asked to give words of affirmation to their friends, the girls struggled. As I sat back and watched this exchange, two things came to my mind: one was that maybe the girls do know how to pass out affirmative words but did not want to do it under pressure. But the other option is that the girls may want to speak affirmative and encouraging words, but are not given them on a regular basis and therefore struggle giving them to others. Option two shows why Gwen’s Girls is so important – if a child is not receiving encouraging phrases at home at least they are exposed to it in a program like Gwen’s Girls where a seed can be planted and cultivated to help these girls learn such things.

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St. John’s University Visit

On Tuesday night, the senior girls participated in a focus group about healthy and unhealthy relationships. During this session, the girls were encouraged to speak freely and openly about their ideas on relationships.

One idea they discussed was how to tell when relationships become unhealthy, and some of the ideas the girls came up with were possessiveness, abuse, and pressure. During the discussion the girls were asked what they think this kind of relationship could do to a girl’s self-esteem and they explained that it could cause doubt and depression. They then were asked to discuss what they could do if they began to feel this way, and the girls explained that they needed to seek help from friends, family members, church organizations, and people they look up to and trust.

After discussing negative relationships, the girls discussed positive relationships and what positive relationships did to their self-esteem and mental health. The girls said that it was nice to have support because it gave them confidence and made them feel good. The girls really opened up and enjoyed being able to talk to the group facilitators.

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Motivation

During the month of March, Gwen’s Girls had the opportunity to listen to a self-esteem/motivational guest speaker. This was not the first time that speaker has been here, but the girls enjoyed her just as much as they did during her previous visits.

This guest speaker had the girls discuss the importance of valuing themselves and the value of setting goals for themselves and their lives. After the discussion, the girls worked on vision boards that they could hang in their rooms or in the Gwen’s girls building as a reminder to themselves of who they want to become and how they want the world to view them.

Each girl let her creativity shine through this piece of work. All of the boards said positive things such as “dream big” and “set your goals high.” Every board touched at least one of the 10 Life Domains, but many focused on leadership development, and how they could better the world.

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Fun Fest Excitement

For one of our outings this April, the girls traveled to Harmar Township, PA, and got to enjoy time at Fun Fest. Here at Fun Fest the girls participated in laser tag, bowling, and arcade games. I along with one of the staff had the chance to go in and watch the girls in the laser tag room and I can say it was priceless. These girls were having such a good time, running around, acting like spies and even singing the James Bond theme song.

The girls had a blast doing every event, but seemed to enjoy the laser tag most of all. When asked what it was that they liked so much about it they explained that they “liked the black lights and the music” as well as “it was fun pairing up with people and making teams.” This was a great way for the girls do have a fun time and to let loose.

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Spring Time, Fun Time

With Easter right around the corner, what better way is there to celebrate than with an Easter egg hunt? The week before Gwen’s Girls Spring break, an Easter egg hunt was held for our girls around our building. All of the girls participated and had a great time finding the eggs and getting prizes at the end.

The girls were given candy, lotion, head bands and jewelry for participating. Each group was asked to search for certain colored eggs, so every girl was able to get something. Not only did the girls have a blast, but the staff and interns had a lot of fun watching the girls run around and help one another find eggs. One of the staff members laughed at the girls’ enthusiasm and said, “It’s like Christmas morning – all this hype and within a little bit it’s over,” but the girls’ enthusiasm lasted the rest of the night.

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Healthy Eating

This week, one of our interns decided to do a lesson on healthy eating and good nutrition, giving the girls a chance to discuss what kinds of foods they eat on a daily basis. This discussion was “a lot of fun” and allowed the girls the chance to find out more interesting facts on the food we eat.

After the discussion, the girls participated in an activity where they put soda on the stove and boiled the water off, which resulted in a thick, sticky syrup. This allowed our girls to see what they put into their bodies when drinking this kind of beverage. During the activity there were many exclamations of ”Eww!!” and “Gross!!”. One of our girls even stated “I’m going to stop drinking pop.”

Once the girls viewed this activity they had the chance to participate in making a healthy alternative food choice: fruit salad. The girls really liked the bright colors and loved eating it. This activity was a great way to incorporate our health and wellness life domain and allowed the girls the chance to see the importance of healthy eating.

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FISH visits Gwen’s Girls

Right as the fresh Spring air began to roll in, members of the FISH (Fellowship In Senior High) community from State College, PA were buzzing with excitement for the opportunity to travel to Pittsburgh for volunteer opportunities. Soon, we found ourselves standing at the doors of the Community House Church, ready to unload our sleeping bags and suitcases, but more than anything, ready to serve.

As the group assignments were plastered to the walls, students buzzed around them excitedly. Although all of the volunteer opportunities had their own benefits, the students chosen to work at Gwen’s Girls were the most excited of us all. On the bus to Pittsburgh, stories were pouring out from veterans of the Pittsburgh trip about working with Gwen’s Girls, whether about the adorable children they had worked with or about how nice it felt to help a community with such a great cause and message. For me, personally, working with Gwen’s Girls was the highlight of my time when I came here two years ago, not so much due to the work itself (cleaning and organizing the facilities), but because of how much I learned. Seeing the documentary on Gwen’s Girls message nearly brought me to tears when I realized the immense difficulties women face, not only in Pittsburgh, but everywhere throughout the world. Seeing the statistics about body image and sexual abuse were what troubled me the most, and after watching the documentary, I was determined to work my hardest during the time I had to help clean up the facilities. After talking to my fellow volunteers, I was happy to realize they felt the same way.

Although we volunteers contribute only a small amount to the cause, it’s nice to know that we had some part in creating at least a little bit of an improved environment for these girls, and we are immensely thankful to again have the opportunity to do that. Thank you, Gwen’s Girls for all you have done and all you continue to do.

Peace and Girl Power,

Mariel D. and the FISH Community

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Vanderbilt Alternative Spring Break (written by Queen Stevenson)

Ms. Queen Stevenson

Ms. Queen Stevenson

On a cold March morning, rays of gold slice through the snow and ice clumped on the roofs under which twelve Vanderbilt University students fold clothes, paint walls, and water plants. I am one of them.

We are part of Alternative Spring Break, the largest student organization at Vanderbilt, boasting over 400 students. Like its name implies, Vandy Alternative Spring Break forges an unconventional path in that its participants engage in intensive community service instead of using spring break as an opportunity to party or lounge around. ASB has 39 sites, each with its own particular service project. There are options to work with the elderly and special needs population in Florida, to serve the Native American population in South Dakota, to spend 48 hours with Washington, D.C.’s homeless. Each site has about 8-12 participants and fosters complete and genuine community between the students not only on the job, but also as we live with each other for a week.
Our fearless site leaders, juniors Anthony and Natalie, and I along with nine other students traveled to snowy Pittsburgh to spend a week that would change our lives. Our service project is titled “Suddenly I See”, which is actually the name of a song by artist KT Tunstall building up the self esteem of a girl by praising her nuanced and unique qualities. The girl’s eyes are opened, and she is able to “suddenly see” her confidence and worth. In the same vein, our site gives us an incredible chance to serve the girls and young women of Gwen’s Girls, who are on the daily having their inner beauty and value being revealed to them.
The first day, we completed tasks around the building, such as lifting tables and sprucing up the chalkboards. The next few days are devoted to caring for and entertaining the younger girls and the older young women; on our last day we will each get to cater to a Gwen’s Girl chosen from either age group, based on our ease of interaction.
Personally, I screamed when I read the site description. I never dreamed that there would exist a project that encompassed my love for the hearts and souls of girls. I never dreamed that there would exist a site that focused not only on putting broken pieces back together, but also transcending the brokenness and producing true fruit in the lives of these girls. I never dreamed that I would receive an opportunity such as this so early on in my college career.
In a couple of hours, the young girls will arrive, and our excitement is tangible in the air. We have brainstormed games and activities for them. While we are so honored to serve them, we realize that it is they who are doing us the greater service; by the time we arrive on campus in a few days, our eyes will be opened to the true beauty of restoration and growth, only because Gwen’s Girls helped us to see it.

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Black History Month Celebration

During the month of February, Gwen’s Girls held an event for Black History Month.  This event allowed our girls to listen to some amazing speakers, find out who won our essay contest, enjoy food and music along with the fellowship of one another.

One of the speakers that the girls enjoyed was Detective Tamara Hawthorne from the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.  This amazing woman shared her story with our girls and explained that “your past does not determine your future,” and that our girls should be “treating themselves like the queens they want to become.” Det. Hawthorne stated that just because you come from bad area or have faced hardships in your life does not mean that you cannot overcome it – our girls need to reach out and find resources, like Gwen’s Girls, that can benefit them.  When I asked what the girls liked about the speaker, they said she was very passionate in telling her story and made them realize the importance of making good decisions.

Not only did our girls enjoy our guest speaker but they enjoyed watching their friends being recognized for a job well done on the essay competition featuring writing about “Who am I and who I will become.” At the end of the night, the girls enjoyed the chance to sing and dance with one another and said that “they were proud of who they were becoming, and thankful to learn their history.”

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