By Agate Gamble
In the recent months I have had the opportunity to intern with the GUTS! (Girls Using their Strengths) program at the YWCA with Tabby Espinoza as my supervisor. The mission of GUTS! is to promote community based strength and comfortably in what it means to be a young woman. GUTS! combats negative expectations that surround developing girls and young women in social media and within cultural stereotypes by facilitating wilderness adventures in the summer and group activities in the academic year.
As a group mentor, I have had the opportunity to work closely with three young women and a fellow mentor at C.S porter middle school. We meet each week for an hour and a half after school to engage in healthy relationship building activities, body mindfulness, self love, and to simply establish a community for young women that is safe and supportive. We discuss personal insecurities that stem from our self comparison of those portrayed in media, and look for healthy ways to reevaluate ourselves that is confident and builds self esteem. An example of a body awareness activity is to outline ourselves on paper, and then label the areas of insecurity and also those that we are happy with. The resolution of the activity is to relabel the negative areas with positive ones (change ‘big thighs’ to ‘strong legs’). These exercises reconstruct our cognitive processes, and with constant exposure- or more exposure to such activities rather than negative social media- young women begin to regard themselves more positively.
Within GUTS! I have worked with both 4th-5th graders and middle schoolers, and have noticed major differences between the age groups as far as their vulnerability and my own ability to connect with them. Upon entering middle school, it seems as though the expectations and stereo types of young women are more directly experienced, causing them to be more guarded and thus, more alone in their fight for self esteem against society. Activities regarding such stunting insecurities have been emotional and rewarding, and I’ve learned how to reawaken my inner seventh grader to connect with those in my middle school group. Although still young myself, I have realized my great separation from minds’ younger than me, and it has been interesting to vicariously experience the complicated lives of a middle schooler. I’ve learned that what seems like a silly memory of middle school drama to me, may be a catastrophic life event for one of the GUTS! girls, and that the best way to support her is to just listen, acknowledge it as significant, and allow her to externally process her own solutions.
My Wilderness and Civilization experience and GUTS! experience connect in their similar emphasis on introspection and observant learning. To go into the world, learn from it, and then to positively affect it, requires conscientiousness that GUTS! promotes through meditation, quotes and poems from fellow adventurers, and activities that bring individuals closer together. In my contribution to this focus, I drew on my experience from the fall trek and other W&C field trips, in which we promoted likewise qualities in ourselves and others. Those who spend time in the wilderness know that it is perhaps, the only environment that offers organic inner peace and understanding of our world, which is studied and practiced in the Wilderness and Civ. program. My internship focused on bringing young women to this place of equilibrium through education of the natural world and experiencing its peace, that can aid them in finding strength and wholeness for the rest of their lives.