Girls' Empowerment Group at Capital High School in Santa Fe, New Mexico, hosts an impressive cast of rotating weekly female speakers. This year, a veterinarian, an activist who spreads awareness about violence against women, a jeweler, the director of the Santa Fe Humane Society, and an esthetician who owns and operates her own business, just to name a few, have brought real-world perspective and wisdom to the weekly gathering of young women organized by CIS site coordinator Heather Sellers. But the community leaders are just one facet of this program that seeks to give young women a safe space to talk though their challenges and define their goals.
Adriana, 18 and on-track to graduate in the spring, has attended Girls' Empowerment Group for the past four years. “This group makes you become more confident in work, in school, and in yourself,” she says. A video about violence against women shown in one of the first group meetings helped Adrianna realize that she wasn’t being treated well in her relationship, and that many of the other young women were in similar situations. But in talking openly about their experiences, the women formed a strong bond that bolstered them in demanding the respect they deserved in all avenues of life. “Women deserve to be treated with love and respect,” Adriana says with confidence today.
Mishanne, 19 and another graduating senior, was introduced to the group by Adriana. Before coming to the group, Mishanne says she felt lost and like she didn’t have many friends. But now she shares a tight bond with the other members and feels secure enough in her present to think about her future. Inspired by the guest speakers, Mishanne now recognizes that she, too, possesses the strength and power to achieve her goals. Site coordinator, Heather, has played a vital role in Mishanne’s growth. “Heather is great. Everyone really appreciates her here; she really keeps us motivated.” Mishanne added with a laugh, “She also buys us pizza every week!”
Giselle, 19, decided she wants to enter the police academy after graduation after learning more about the career in Girls' Empowerment Group. “I hope CIS never leaves Capital High School—and I hope this group never leaves either—because it provides so much important information to us,” she explained, “This group has really taught me that girls are equal in relationships. They have an equal voice. They aren’t less than men.”
Jhemdy, 19, is the newest member of the group, but it’s already made a huge impression on her. A forensic scientist who came to speak told the young women about how she had to fight for equal pay when she realized her male counterparts were being paid more despite having the same credentials. Not only did the scientist achieve equal pay, but she now works to help other women fight for pay equity in their respective fields. Jhemdy was so inspired by the story of how one woman was changing society, that she now plans to attend medical school and put her skills to use in medically under-served areas. “I want to change society too,” she says.
Heather, the CIS site coordinator, is working to ensure that each young woman has the resources she needs to transition from high school to higher education or to a career path. She is currently working on connecting each student to pre and post-graduation internships. “It’s been really amazing to grow with these girls over the last four years,” Heather says. “The greatest thing is seeing that spark they have when they’re inspired.”