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Shereen Khatapoush: Be a Champion for Girls

During the week of May 5-9, we will celebrate Girls Inc. Week, in which we recognize the strength in every girl and call attention to the significant obstacles to girls’ well-being and success. It is a time for all in our community to commit to supporting our girls in growing up to succeed and thrive!

Consider the facts: In the U.S. today, one in four girls will not finish high school. Seventy-eight percent of girls are unhappy with their bodies by age 17. Three in 10 will become pregnant before the age of 20. Most disturbingly, one in five girls will be a victim of childhood sexual abuse.

Here in Santa Barbara County, while the high school graduation rate for girls was 88 percent in 2011-12, only 38 percent of these graduates were college ready. Under a third of our elected officials and local business owner are women, and women are still earning less than men in the same job categories.

These numbers are shocking. Too often, girls are overlooked and undervalued. It doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way.

At Girls Inc., we strive every day to inspire girls to be strong, smart and bold, to provide girls with the skills, knowledge and experiences they need to succeed. Girls need support systems, people, programs and all-girl spaces that provide unique, meaningful experiences. With these supports in place, girls can be strong, smart and bold!

Helping each girl discover and realize her potential requires an investment at every level of our community. Schools, families and individuals all play a critical role in telling girls, “I have your back.” When you see the results, it’s truly amazing.

Consider Josie, for example (name changed): Josie is 8 and has attended Girls Inc. since she was 5. Last year, due to physical abuse in the home, Josie’s grandmother was awarded custody of Josie and her brother. This transition was really hard on Josie, and we saw her mood and attitude toward school, Girls Inc., and her peers suffer.

Josie had been very outgoing and funny, but after the move, she’d become withdrawn and disinterested. Josie’s grandmother and Girls Inc. staff worked together to develop a support plan and to enroll her Girls Inc. classes that would address her academic and social needs. For example, Josie was enrolled in “Math Magnificence,” where girls learn and practice multiplication and division skills through fun, hands-on games.

Once withdrawn and disinterested, now Josie is engaged, learning and having fun! Josie recently said she wants to practice her times tables at home so that she can get even better at math, and takes worksheets home to practice — a huge step for her! Her grandmother excitedly shares her good grades with staff members and reports that Josie’s teachers at school have seen a huge difference in her.

During Girls Inc. Week, please join us. Wear red all week to support girls. Become a champion for girls; you can inspire girls to stand on their own two feet and create a positive future — to be strong, smart and bold. Celebrate girls for their strengths and help them create a fabulous future. That is true girl power!

 — Shereen Khatapoush is the director of program operations for Girls Incorporated of Greater Santa Barbara.

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