After 22 years, Duluth YWCA closes GirlPower program
The nonprofit will host a farewell celebration Sunday for the program that offered academic and life skills education.
DULUTH — Morgan Babineau dropped the news on Day 1 of camp.
“They’re young adults,” she said. “We decided it’s better to treat them with the responsibility and maturity we know they had.”
After 22 years and 3,000-plus girls and female-identifying youth served, the Duluth YWCA is closing GirlPower. The after-school and summer program offers mentoring, academic and life skills education and more through a racial, social justice lens.
GirlPower at one time served six locations throughout the Twin Ports, but COVID, staffing and fund shortages as well as dwindling participation are the cause of its closure, said Executive Director Beth Burt.
“The world has shifted and changed, and there are more after-school programs that incorporate some of the same activities,” she added.
The YWCA is hosting a farewell celebration, open to all with connections to the program, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the Lafayette Community Center, 3026 Minnesota Ave.
GirlPower often filled the gap in topics that weren’t covered in school and created a way for youth from different neighborhoods to build relationships. It's endeared to many in the community, said Babineau, GirlPower coordinator.
Samantha Wilson, 14, was introduced to GirlPower in third grade. “I would always scan the room and see that I was different. I’m super tall, so everyone was shorter than me and smarter than me,” she said.
“Starting GirlPower, I realized that wasn’t something I should be scared about. Everyone’s different and everyone’s beautiful in their own shape. Being confident is what I need to do to be myself,” she said.
Giovanna Leoni, 13, said the program is a safe space to be herself without judgment, and it has shown her how to build up herself and her peers.
If a youth says something negative about themselves during program hours, everyone redirects with a “try again,” Giovanna said. And, it’s a practice she and her friends have carried outside of school and camp.
It’s different than a group or a club, said Giovanna’s mother, Angie Leoni. “When you're part of GirlPower, you're part of a family," she said.
Leoni has been impressed that participants discuss sexism, racism and equity, how to treat people and community service. She recalled the youth conducting bake and craft sales for various community fundraisers.
Leoni described her daughter as compassionate and considerate, “a little old soul,” and participating in GirlPower “has really helped to shape and inform even more of who she is.”
Girls’ voices often go unheard in larger groups, said Alice Werle, former program director, so an intention of the program is to amplify youth voices in safe, nurturing spaces.
During Werle’s five years with GirlPower, they offered homework help conducted by staff and Womentor volunteers; Girls, Inc.- based activities aimed to build self-esteem and leadership; and science and STEM programming.
And, youth executed community action projects, some resulting in discussions about LGBTQ-plus inclusion at local small businesses.
One year, the girls created and sold a magazine focused on body image and self-esteem. The proceeds went to The Emily Program, a Duluth eating disorder treatment center.
In the past two decades, GirlPower also partnered with the American Indian Community Housing Organization, Neighborhood Youth Services and the Steve O’Neil Apartments.
Because part of the YWCA’s mission is to eliminate racism, GirlPower encouraged youth to tackle often avoided conversations. It can be really impactful to provide an opportunity to express what kids are seeing and experiencing, Werle said. This open communication also paves the way to brainstorm inclusion and equity solutions.
For Werle, it was a game changer to see youth learn how to use their voices, execute their ideas and make a difference.
“I was a pretty shy kid. I think about how different I might be if I had somebody telling me, ‘Your voice does matter. You don’t have to be an adult to stand up for what you believe in,” she said.
Babineau said her time working with and coordinating the program has left a lasting impression.
“Not only have I made the girls strong, capable young women, I've learned from them so much about how to be a strong, capable woman myself,” she said. “It doesn't feel like a job; it feels like I'm serving this bigger purpose.”
With the program closing, Babineau and other staff members are referring youth to other area girls’ groups, including Men As Peacemakers.
Burt said she hopes the YWCA may eventually conduct a community assessment to see which gaps are needed and where the nonprofit can lend support within its mission.
GirlPower helped produce leaders in our community, she said. At the YWCA, “we’ll continue to ensure women and girls have a voice at the table.”
If you go
- What: GirlPower farewell celebration
- When: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday
- Where: Lafayette Community Center, 3026 Minnesota Ave., Duluth
- More info: https://bit.ly/3dDgnSK ; email Morgan Babineau at firstname.lastname@example.org