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Girls Inc. program teaches girls to appreciate themselves

Date: 3/3/2009

By Lori Szepelak


HOLYOKE -- For a host of young girls in the city on Feb. 12, their love of self shone through their stylish masks during a unique masquerade ball, hosted by Girls Inc. of Holyoke.

Since January, Girls Inc. has immersed girls ages five to 12 in an after-school curriculum that centered on looking within oneself to find value and self-confidence. For several weeks, the girls participated in activities and discussions around what it means to love themselves, their families and their community.

The culmination of The Love of Self program was a masquerade ball at Girls Inc. that was attended by more than 100 area residents. The masquerade ball began with each girl being presented and escorted by the special guest of their choice, and included a six-course meal and dancing.

The Love of Self program and similar activities are critical for girls development, Janna Chapdelaine, director of development and public relations for Girls Inc. said. Too often girls are told they are not enough, too much, or need to change. A program like this puts everything else on hold and teaches girls to value themselves. This is the first step.

The girls were challenged to answer, What does it mean to love yourself? and for the past several weeks, they shared their meanings with each other and experienced how different and similar meanings can be for different girls. Girls also created poetry and artwork during the curriculum and prepared for the ball by designing and creating their own fabric formalwear in addition to plaster of Paris masks.

We created lesson plans, conducted Internet research, and had many self-awareness discussions, Daisy Jimenez, director of the after school and summer programs for Girls Inc. said.

Jimenez explained that during one activity, girls were asked to look into a mirror and describe what they liked about themselves.

For the younger girls it was very easy, but the older girls hesitated before they were able to identify what they loved about themselves, Jimenez added. That s why a program such as this one is so important.

For the girls themselves, the smiles and confidence exuded at the masquerade ball were a testament to the success of the program.

Sometimes you have to take time to love yourself, not just other people, Solymar Fraticelli said.

Elisha Velez echoed those sentiments.

Loving yourself is very important, Velez said .

Both girls wrote a poem for The Love of Self program and wanted to share it with Reminder Publications readers. They wrote:

We take care of ourselves

Cause it s better for our health

We are very gorgeous

Everyone adores us

We are very smart

And we have a big heart!

When a girl can value, respect and love herself, she is able to give back to the world in so many ways, Chapdelaine noted.

The masks for the masquerade ball were unique to each girl, and all enjoyed the experience of creating a face for the event.

My mask meant that I loved myself, Erika Gauthier said, while Victoria Lopez added, My mask made me feel happy. For Aricelis Madera her mask made her feel special.

Other girls participating in The Love of Self program included Karina Benitiz, Jadah Ramos, Eliza Madera and Kiara Rosa.

Women overseeing the winter program included Jimenez, Ilizabetsy Mattey, creative arts and theater specialist; Olga Gonzalez, administrative assistant, and Yolanda Hernandez, nutrition and cooking specialist.

As the evening came to a close, some of the girls wanted to single out their special guest and why that person was chosen as their escort.

I brought my brother because he s never been to one of my special activities before, Karina Benitiz said.

Moms, of course, were also at the top of everyone s lists, and Jadah Ramos noted she wanted her mom to see her at her first ball.

Parents interested in more information about Girls Inc. can visit or call 532-6247.