The second annual Power of Being a Girl Conference at Lakeside Church was abuzz with infectious energy and excitement that can only be expected when a group of 200 girls assemble for a day of empowerment, learning and fun.
Hailing from 13 Guelph and Wellington County schools, female students in Grades 7 and 8 were brought together for a YMCA-YWCA of Guelph-led event designed to help promote positive self-image and develop leadership skills in young women during an often-tumultuous time in their lives.
“It’s such a vulnerable age. I think that things have changed a lot over the years with how social media is affecting them, how they talk and interact with each other, and with the opposite gender,” Helen Keen, Power of Being a Girl coordinator and a conference organizer, explained.
“It’s hard for these girls to feel confident and proud of their gender sometimes – this is a great program that we’re allowed to put on through the Guelph Y and it’s special that we were able to take it on.”
A series of eight inspiring workshops presented everything from interactive cooking classes and high-energy hip hop yoga to soul-searching dialogue on relevant matters such as relationships, body image, healthy living and self-esteem.
Keynote speaker Leah Robinson, a Paralympic athlete and 2017 Women of Distinction honouree, kicked off the conference with a rousing speech urging the young crowd to pursue their ambitions. Many attendees, such as Olivia and Ella, Grade 7 students from St. Ignatius School in Orangeville, later cited it as their favourite part of the conference.
Over 25 YMCA staff and Women of Distinction alumni volunteers were on hand to ensure a smooth operation, and 20 community organizations set up booths and and provided information to the girls on their lunch break on a range of career and educational options.
The Power of Being a Girl Conference was also used to launch the opening of the 2018 Women of Distinction nominations, another Y-led initiative, something that its Honourary Chair, Marissa Teeter, said seemed like a natural fit.
“Its really important to us to have [Women of Distinction alumni] here because those are mentors that can build connections with these girls in these small groups and say ‘this is where I am’ and represent girls in every walk of life,” Teeter, 2015’s Woman of Distinction, said.
YMCA-organized events are subsidized and accessible for everyone in the community, regardless of background, Teeter said, plus they are an important way to engage youth and get them involved in our community.
“It’s important for young girls to have a sense of community, share stories and hear that they’re not alone in what they’re going through. Hope and inspiration can be very powerful things – not everyone is handed the same cards,” Teeter continued.
“It’s a chance of opportunity, through inspiration and mentorship, and provides a platform to share stories and lift each other up.”
For more information on YMCA’s events, including Power of Being a Girl and Women of Distinction, visit here.