2012-12-20 / Community

Nonprofit off to a promising start

Local organization helps young women find their purpose
By Stephanie Sumell


INSPIRATION—Girls in Power peer role model Alexis Peterson, left, is honored by GIP founder Melinda Crown at the local nonprofft’s culmination ceremony Dec. 12. INSPIRATION—Girls in Power peer role model Alexis Peterson, left, is honored by GIP founder Melinda Crown at the local nonprofft’s culmination ceremony Dec. 12. Raised in a middle-class suburban home in San Jose, Melinda Crown is proof that looks can be deceiving.

“It’s easy to judge a book by its cover,” she said.

But behind her smiling facade, she was hurting.

“Depression, anxiety, alcohol, suicide attempts—you name it, I’ve suffered it,” she said.

With the help of mentors, church groups and intensive therapy, the 42-year-old Agoura Hills resident has made it through.

In 2010, the single mother of three dedicated her life to helping at-risk girls lead happy, healthy and productive lives. She started Girls in Power, an organization that provides youths of all socioeconomic backgrounds with tools and strategies for success in life. In January, it became a nonprofit.

On Dec. 12, seven young girls and their parents joined volunteers, mentors and invited guests for the organization’s second culmination ceremony at the Grant Brimhall Library in Thousand Oaks. The youngsters, who range from 7 to 10 years old, recently completed a 10-week workshop at the Conejo Valley YMCA. During weekly sessions, they enjoyed activities designed to educate and empower.

The workshops are run by a group of female volunteers. Each three-hour session enforces selfconfi dence, self-awareness and self-respect, helping girls discover their purpose and achieve their goals, Crown said.

Reaching parents through social media, partnering organizations and word of mouth, Crown said the girls come from as far south as Encino and as far north as Oxnard.

Her friend, San Fernando Valley resident Christa Nahhas, is one of the organization’s lead teachers.

“When these girls don’t have confidence they can fall in any sort of a trap,” Nahhas said. “This program really fills that gap for those middle-of-the-road girls that don’t get touched by other programs.”

Crown, a former board member for the Los Angeles Childcare Planning Committee, said, “We provide strategies and positive coping tools so girls can selfmanage their anxieties and fears.”

Mentoring

Crown, a member of the Rotary Club of Westlake Village, said girls often cope with their feelings of inadequacy in unhealthy ways. They abuse drugs, develop an eating disorder, abandon their studies, inflict self-harm and lead promiscuous lifestyles.

“We believe all girls have the potential to be at risk,” she said. “But it’s easier to empower a youth than to repair an adult.”

For GIP, that empowerment comes from getting to know positive female role models.

During each session at the Y, young women from all walks of life volunteer their time to speak with the girls on a variety of topics. Simi Valley resident and former competitive gymnast Dani Jacoby spoke with the girls about personal style, self-esteem and bullying.

A victim of bullying herself, the 20-year-old Jacoby said she hopes to use her experiences to help other girls in similar situations.

Her website, www.youneedtobeheard.com, allows those touched by bullying to share their stories and realize that they are not alone.

At the beginning of the 10-week session, each girl is matched with a mentor who calls her on a weekly basis and meets with her every few weeks.

Found through women’s organizations and word of mouth, the mentors undergo extensive background checks and threehour training sessions before participating in a minimum of five weekly workshops.

Girls in Power volunteer MacKenna Brien, 23, said she and Chloe Alpert, the 10-year-old she mentors, developed a special relationship.

“We are so on the same page,” Brien said. “We got pedicures, we went to one of those pottery painting places . . . we just did girly things and hung out.”

The fourth-grader has made huge strides in 10 weeks, Brien said. “Towards the end she’d make a goal, and by the next phone call it was accomplished.”

Chloe, who plans to become an ophthalmologist, said the program has helped her come out of her shell.

“I have goals to not be shy, express my feelings and not hide my personality,” she said.

A work in progress

David Domm, GIP’s marketing coordinator, said there are plans for 27 workshops in the next two years, a minimum of three per three-month quarter.

“We’re growing fast,” said the Agoura Hills resident. “Ultimately, we plan to go national.”

To help fund the workshops, which cost about $1,000 per girl, Domm helped Crown created GIP Revolution Inc., a collection of services designed to help girls and their parents develop happy, healthy relationships.

“We’re looking to provide this program to as many girls as possible, whether they can afford it or not,” Domm said.

To cover the cost of food and supplies, parents are asked to provide a $25 donation each week.

Currently covering excess costs, Crown said she is seeking community sponsors and plans to hire staff in the near future.

As part of GIP Revolution, Crown recently published a Kindle book, “Empower Your Girl.”

Available on Amazon.com, the book provides parents with tools and strategies to empower themselves and their daughters.

“Every child is different,” Crown said. “It’s about slowing our busy lives down and paying attention to what our child needs us to hear.”

Always in need of new revenue, Crown will host a night of entertainment on Fri., Feb. 15 at the Goebel Senior Adult Center on Janss Road.

Funds will help support the next set of workshops, which begin Feb. 19.

“It will be a fun event for a worthy organization,” Crown said. “(Girls In Power) shows girls how they can construct the life they want. . . . It’s about being a good human being.”

To register a child, apply for a volunteer position, help sponsor a workshop or learn more about the organization, visit http://girlsinpower.org. To reach a representative, call (805) 559-4447.

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