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Girls Inc. program builds friendships and understanding

Date: 8/17/2010

Aug. 18, 2010

By Lori Szepelak


HOLYOKE -- Maria Gonzalez and Lillis Dejesus were at odds with each other for a time this summer, but a unique project at Girls Inc. of Holyoke brought them together, and now they're "best friends."

The summer project, titled Writing on the Wall, is the brainchild of Daisy Jimenez, director of after school and summer programs at Girls Inc.

"Writing on the Wall is a product of literacy, self-expression, conflict resolution, and self-esteem that give girls a voice," Jimenez said during a recent early afternoon interview with Reminder Publications.

Jimenez noted that summer is a time of "great promise" for youth, and that a grant from the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative (HSLI) has increased access to learning opportunities for low-income children in the area.

The HSLI works in partnership with the WestMOST Network and community programs like Girls Inc. to produce positive academic and developmental outcomes for youth, according to Jimenez.

Jimenez added that together, Girls Inc. and HSLI is fulfilling a promise to youth of summer days filled with experiences that broaden horizons, as well as allow time to explore the outdoors, and be engaged in positive relationships with peers and adults.

Jimenez incorporated her idea of Writing on the Wall into the summer curriculum and will continue the project throughout the upcoming school year.

Jimenez also explained that a large part of the summer programming for girls ages five to 12 is literacy focused, with a goal of minimizing the summer learning loss and helping girls strengthen their reading and writing skills. Hasbro also went a step further by providing the services of Gabriela Micchia, an integrative reading specialist, who is assisting the girls with their reading and writing assignments.

For Gonzalez, she learned a valuable lesson this summer -- not to criticize other girls, and in particular, Dejesus. Both girls have been in the same programs at Girls Inc. throughout the summer.

"I felt sad that I made Lillis cry," Gonzalez said, who motioned to her display on the wall where she expressed her regret at her actions.

For Dejesus, Gonzalez's initial comments were hurtful but after she apologized and wrote about her feelings on the wall, Dejesus "felt better" and wrote her own comments about the incident on the wall.

"I'm learning from the project every day," Jimenez said, noting it is important for her and the Girls Inc. staff to be aware of possible conflicts and resolve them immediately.

"The girls are also learning the importance of cultural diversity and how to accept each other," Jimenez added.

As the girls posed for a photo beneath their wall hangings, it was apparent that a simple message on a wall can break down barriers and create friendships -- perhaps ones that will last a lifetime.

"We're best friends now," Dejesus said.

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