When Ohio schools closed in March due to COVID-19, classwork wasn’t the only thing left unfinished. For dozens of girls in YWCA Dayton’s Girls LEAD! program, their regular in-school sessions were put on hold, too.
That is, until the weekly Girls LEAD! check-in chats were born in April. Held virtually every Friday, they provide girls with a socially distant way to safely connect with each other, interact with Girls LEAD! staff, and continue to learn and grow in a healthy way.
“We created this live chat to allow our girls to come together, still focusing on social-emotional learning, and check in on how they’re doing, feeling, and processing getting through this pandemic in an open and honest way – keeping it real where they are and how they feel,” explained Dr. Rochelle Garner, director of Girls LEAD!
The one-hour meetings average 10 girls in attendance and start with a “brave space” – time to share thoughts and feelings, life events, and vulnerabilities – followed by a mini physical exercise and guided discussion. Guest speakers have included school psychologist Marietta Harris, Girls LEAD! alumna and summer camp coach Morgan Payne, and Sa-shai’ Daniels, a fashion design student and aspiring costume designer.
“I’ve always wanted to be in fashion, since I was four or five years old,” Daniels said. “Clothes have always been an expression of who I am. I want girls to know they can develop their own style and voice and be comfortable in who they are.”
Next up: a virtual Zumba class, with an open invitation to girls’ moms and sisters, too. Although Girls LEAD! is built for girls 11-18, having scheduled check-ins is helping families, too. “Thank you for all you do to help our kids,” wrote one parent. Another noted how hard it was for her daughter to connect with friends with so many conflicting at-home schedules.
“Because of how this pandemic has played out, we did not have an opportunity to have a closing session with many of our Girls LEAD! schools,” Garner said. “This experience has provided a different platform to connect with the girls and their parents. During this challenging season, it allows us to continue to show that we care and we are here for our girls.”