2008-03-20 / Health & Wellness

New nonprofit aims to empower girls

By Joann Groff joann@theacorn.com

JoHanna Jones JoHanna Jones Despite the fact that she's working on her therapy licensing exam, JoHanna Jones says she's more interested in keeping girls out of the psychologist's office than in it. A desire to prevent girls from heading to therapy is what motivated Jones to open a new center in Westlake Village dedicated to helping girls in their most impressionable years.

The Girls' Empowerment Center offers programs catered to girls 8 to 17 years old. The facility on Townsgate Road opened last weekend.

Jones recently finished her master's degree in marriage and family therapy at California State University Northridge and is taking her licensing exam.

She said the focus of her practice will be on prevention.

"I want it to be a fun and open place for every girl where they can experience group acceptance and have one more place to discover who they are," Jones said. "I've worked with a lot of girls that have dealt with conceptual abuse, and groups were so effective."

Kristina Diener, a clinical psychologist who's been practicing for more than 10 years, attended group meetings with her 11yearold daughter.

"In my world, the world of psychology, doctors can be pathologizing and manipulative," Diener said. "JoHanna just has you believe that you can do so much better and inspires that creative spark in a young girl's mentality. Her message is infusive and really reverberates with the girls."

Jones began building her business plan last summer with a series of so-called "vision parties."

She invited members of the community and local nonprofit groups to talk about the possibilities for empowering young girls.

When Lutheran Social Services got wind of Jones' ideas, they donated use of an office they weren't using. She pays a small fee to use the building on Saturdays and weekday afternoons.

Jones says the most important aspect of the Girls' Empowerment Center is its weekly afterschool enrichment program. The group starts with a half-hour of either yoga, Pilates or martial arts, and then moves into a psychosocial enrichment exercise, which may focus on social skills, public speaking, etiquette or other lessons. Next, the girls dedicate 45 minutes to a specific academic subject.

"It could mean an artist comes in to visit or some technology people or maybe a lesson in teaching skills," Jones said. "This part motivates them toward future career interests."

Lastly, there's homework completion, time management training and project planning. Student tutors from college come to help.

"Everything is geared toward loving knowledge and loving to learn," Jones said.

Other offerings at the center include a weekly teen talk group where girls are free to ask questions and talk openly about what's on their minds.

"It's not really geared toward support," Jones said. "It's more just a place to figure out who they are. We lie around on bean bags and talk and ask questions."

A Kids in Divorce group meets Saturdays, and a moms' group meets monthly.

Diener said she thinks Jones' programs should be mandatory in schools.

"She anchors (the girls) to their own belief system," Diener said. "They are good, better, wonderful people. It's okay to be who you are and to not follow the crowd. She encourages them to have their own backbone and sing their own song. She's an architect for emotional stability for these girls."

Jones was raised in Thousand Oaks, attending Aspen Elementary , Redwood Middle and Thousand Oaks High schools before going out of state to college. She returned to the Conejo Valley and lives with her family- which includes three children, two teenage boys and an 11year-old girl- in the same house where she grew up.

"The values in our community have always been based on family and enrichment," Jones said. "I think it's really about the need and desire to have something like this in place for girls. People are really getting excited about it."

The Girls' Empowerment Center is at 2500 Townsgate Road, Ste. H, in Westlake Village. For more information, call (805) 341-5735.

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