The message couldn’t have been any more timely for 120 Grade 6 girls.
On the cusp of becoming teenagers facing immense pressures, the group of South Okanagan girls had a day of self-empowerment at the Power of Being a Girl conference on Tuesday.
“It is about being proud to be a girl,” said Madison Larocque, an 11-year-old from McNicoll Park Middle School.
“We learned about being safe on the internet and we got to meet a lot of new people from other schools and it has been a really fun experience because we have talked a lot about being a girl. It is easier to do that in a room with just girls because boys just don’t understand some of these things.”
Dressed in matching pink hoodies, the girls packed the hall at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre for the signature event of the YMCA Okanagan.
KVR school vice-principal Jennifer Wingham said having Power of Being A Girl available to the students is important because it comes at a critical time in their life.
A series of workshops focused on a variety of issues, including a very timely discussion on internet safety. It was just over a week ago Port Coquitlam teen Amanda Todd committed suicide, allegedly a victim of cyber-bullying. RCMP have stated in the past that bullying ranks second, behind substance abuse, for youth issues identified as concerns by detachments throughout B.C.
“By the time they leave for Grade 8, a lot of these issues that are being talked about today are ones they will face. It is great to have something like this where they can talk about these things when they are younger,” said Wingham.
“It’s good for them to see other kids face the same things they do and for them to know they aren’t alone, especially with the cyber-bullying. That is such a huge topic in the schools nowadays. We want kids to have strategies on how to deal with these tough situations when they are coming up so it’s a great opportunity for them to learn.”
Kicking the day off was Brenda Peters from the Beautiful Girls program at Cheers the Church. This is a weekly program where girls between nine and 16 are invited to meet and connect with peers in a safe and non-judgmental environment. She told a story of how her chickens made a bad decision to follow one of their coop mates too close to a fence they were warned not to go near. In the end, one was killed by the farm dog who snatched it by that same fence. A metaphor, she said, of making smart choices.
“This is why we are all here today, making wise life choices,” said Peters.
“We are here to help you kids make wise life choices. These women here, these directors, your parents at home, your teachers at school want you to make wise life choices. This is a crazy, crazy journey that we are all on. Whether it is today, tomorrow or next week, you will all come to a crossroad in your journey of life and you are going to have to make a choice. If you hang out with wise people you will be wise. If you want to be lost and not knowing where to go, hang out with fools because fools will take you down a very destructive path.”
The Power of Being a Girl conference is in its seventh year in Kelowna and received attention from other communities that have requested the program travel to other school districts. This year the help of a one-time grant, as well as a partnership with the South Okanagan Women In Need Society, the conference was able to travel to Penticton.
“We believe an event like this is a great way to introduce to the girls a variety of programs and resources in their community. We are all looking to give these girls tools and support to make healthy and safe choices as they approach their teens,” said Liz Gomes, SOWINS child counsellor.