Based on our many years of running programs and countless conversations with girls, parents, caregivers, and educators, we know that our work is impactful. Yet we’re always so deeply moved to hear how our programs and tools help people make positive change in their lives. We recently had an opportunity to chat with Stacy Peña, a mom who connected with Girls Leadership through our Girl & Grown-Up workshops (new sessions for K–8 start the week of October 3!).
Tell us about your journey with Girls Leadership!
We were involved in Girls Leadership right in the beginning when they were first ramping up programs. Simone Marean led a Girl & Grown-Up workshop in our school district and my daughter — who is now in graduate school! — started in 4th grade.
What drew you to the Girl & Grownup program?
Back then, my daughter really struggled with friendships. When she was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD in high school, it made sense since we learned that missing social cues is one of the ways ADHD manifests in girls. But during the 4th to 8th grade years, things were really bad, and it was hard to understand why she struggled. I was eager to take advantage of any resources so I could learn how to support her, help her resolve conflicts, and equip her to be able to deal with school. That workshop was amazing and was exactly what she needed. It was such a great experience that she attended Girls Leadership’s summer camp as a rising 5th and 6th grader.
How did that training help you support your daughter?
The training we took was built around negotiation and how to resolve conflict, and the things we learned then serve us to this day. For example, how to deal with conflict as a young woman living in an apartment with roommates. Whether it’s everyday behavior or something unusual like a roommate bringing home a cat without asking for permission, we still talk about the model of conflict resolution. For example, the importance of articulating, “I value our relationship. Here’s the contribution I have made to the situation. Here’s the behavior that is bothering me and how it affected me. And here is what I want moving forward.” It’s so effective for her!
That’s incredible! So it’s safe to say that you have seen a long-term impact of Girl & Grown-up workshops, yes?
Absolutely. The programs helped her develop the ability at a young age to not avoid conflict, but to enter into conversations about a situation, which as we know is a skill that a lot of people are lacking as adults!
In high school, things got a lot smoother, and in college my daughter formed really deep, caring friendships that lasted through college and now into her 20s. A huge part of that has been attributable to her direct communication with those friends, some of whom have never communicated with anyone in their lives that way. They see my daughter as an authentic, caring friend — she is able to have real conversations with them, and to work through conflicts without drama.
I think the other important thing about the work we did with Girls Leadership is that it allowed my daughter to see that when there is conflict or a weird situation with friends, that it does not necessarily mean something is wrong with her. It’s common to have a flare up with a friend and assume that we were at fault. But now she knows that people have their own issues and so the most important thing is to talk directly and compassionately.
Why are GL’s programs particularly important now?
One thing that is top of mind for me is that social media was just hitting when she was young and has evolved a lot since, but the negative behavior hasn’t changed. For example, girls may take issue with one another publicly via social media, and while there have been instances where my daughter has been targeted, or she reads a comment that she feels like is directed towards her, instead of retaliating on social via a comment, she calls the person up. It’s so much healthier!
But the long game is this: Girls Leadership’s programs offer the ability and opportunity to acquire new lifelong skills. They help girls develop skills that will serve them today, tomorrow, and well into the future. And it doesn’t just help girls, it helps families too.
What is your daughter up to now?
She is in her first year of a doctoral program to become a therapist and her goal right now is to work with teens in crisis. She is open to the fact that as she learns and grows the path may evolve, but she has a real heart for teens in a world where so few do. It has been amazing to watch her follow this path.
Is there anything else you want parents to know?
When I think about how I felt as a parent of a girl who was struggling … it was hard. And one truly incredible thing about Girls Leadership is how they create what they call a “brave space” — a space where girls feel seen, accepted, and loved by both peers and adults. When your kid feels vulnerable socially, you worry about her ability to succeed in social situations. When it gets bad, everything — be it sleepaway camp or a birthday party — feels high risk and you might be hesitant. But the environment Girls Leadership creates is caring and supporting and helps kids grow and develop the skills they need without kids thinking they are weird. It was the perfect environment for her to let go of worry, relax, and have fun so that she could do the work.