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Student partners with service group to form a Girl’s Club

Kaitlyn Rabach and Rebecca O'Neil | Friday, September 20, 2013

With the help of a Saint Mary’s junior Sarah Hossfeld, St. Margaret’s House, a day house for women and girls, introduced the Girl’s Club – a program to help adolescent girls recognize their individual worth – to the South Bend community in the summer of 2013. 

On Thursday, Kathy Schneider, executive director of St. Margaret’s House, spoke at a College press conference where a comprehensive report titled “Status of Girls in Indiana in 2013 (SGI)” was released. Schneider, an expert reviewer of the report, shared the importance of both compiling statistics on girls and creating programs that specifically target boosting girls’ self-esteems.

“This summer, St. Margaret’s House created the Girl’s Club for girls ages eight to 13,” Schneider said. “Throughout the summer, the girls went on field trips, tended a Unity Garden and took part in a Darkroom Project where they explored their world through photos. They participated in discussions about their talents, their dreams and their hopes for the future.”

The club was made possible through an Indiana Community grant, Hossfeld said. She said the purpose was to create a place where young girls had the opportunity to “just be girls.”

“I recognized that many girls in that age group needed special time for themselves,” Schneider said. “Especially those who grow up with low economic status – I mean, the whole family is struggling and so often the girls this age are taking care of younger siblings – they’re working all the time.”

“We wanted to make the time for girls to be girls, where they can have fun, they can dream and think about what their future will be.”

Schneider said the positive self-image Girl’s Club tries to promote helped foster a healthy vision of the future for many of the participants.

“We invited many community leaders to come talk to the girls about their futures,” Schneider said. “Wonderful, dynamic women who could be role models to these girls came and asked the girls, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up? What are your gifts? What are your talents?'”

Schneider and Hossfeld said some girls had a little trouble naming their future goals at first, but with some coaxing they were able to articulate their dreams.

“That is the first step in developing a strong sense of self-esteem,” Schneider said. 

Hossfeld said in her sessions, which ran from 12:45 p.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, she worked on exercises where the girls shared their voice and opinions.

“I think a lot of it is understanding that they have a voice,” Hossfeld said. “They have so many stories they want to tell, things they want to do in the world and just empowering them to know that they can use that and make a difference if they want to.”

Hossfeld said she wanted to make sure important topics like self-body image and physical health were discussed in some of the sessions.

“We talked about body image and did the Barbie project where we talked about if Barbie was a real girl what she would look like and how unrealistic that is,” Hossfeld said. “We also started a unity garden and planted a variety of different vegetables and talked about healthy eating.”

Hossfeld said more serious topics such as sexual abuse were discussed as well.

“I really wanted to keep a good balance of light-hearted topics and serious topics,” Hossfeld said. “It’s really been about giving them attention, and something special just for them that they can come and do each afternoon, get to know other girls their age, and doing something they like to do and cover topics they didn’t know we could cover.”

Hossfeld said she saw major growth in all of the girls’ excitement and self-esteem over the course of the summer. 

“A lot of the girls came in very defensive,” Hossfeld said. “They didn’t know anything about me they had just got this random invitation in the mail. So the first thing that I had to do was get them to open up to me and get them to break down their walls. Once they did that the results were amazing. Now they’ll come in and they’ll be like ‘Sarah, this is my day- ‘or, ‘I’m upset today’ or ‘Can I write in my journal today?'” 

“I mean, they will tell you anything so I think the biggest progression is seeing how closed off they were and now they’ll just come in and have an hour conversation with you and they’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

Hossfeld said went back after the semester started and visited some of the girls. She said she was excited to hear that many of the girls remained friends even outside of the club.

“They all formed relationships with each other,” Hossfeld said. “A lot of them even now in school will talk about how they do things together since they met over the summer in the club.” 

Schneider said she is thankful for Hossfeld’s mentorship and knows the program would not have been the same without her.

“Sarah’s a wonderful mentor,” Schneider said. “You know her magic was that she truly cared about these girls. You know, she would walk in and smile and make them feel like the most special girls in the world and that is worth more than any program in the world. It really takes someone with an open heart and time and a way of being with people that is just open and loving. That will do more than any “program” can ever do.” 

Schneider said she is looking forward to continue building on the organization’s relationship with Saint Mary’s College. She said resources that Saint Mary’s offers, like the recently released SGI, immensely adds to the work St. Margaret’s House is doing for women. 

“We have a fantastic relationship with Saint Mary’s College and it is such a great partnership with an all women’s place like St. Margaret’s House,” Schneider said. “The young women who come as nursing students, as work study students, as summer service students, as interns they all add to the life of St. Margaret’s house. It’s a two-way street and I am so grateful for all the support Saint Mary’s College has given to St. Margaret’s House over the years.”

Contact Kaitlyn Rabach and Rebecca O’Neil at
krabac01@saintmarys.edu and
roneil01@saintmarys.edu