June 11, 2018

Global GLOW’s HerStory programming grows with girls to meet their needs as we work to strengthen and support them in advocating for themselves. Girls start attending our weekly afterschool HerStory LitClubs from ages 10-12, move on to HerStory GLOW Clubs from ages 13-14, and then HerStory Teen Clubs for high school age girls.

Two close friends and members of our Teen Club at Nova Academy in Santa Ana stopped by the GLOW House this week to talk with us about their experiences. They just graduated from Nova and are excited to be college-bound at the end of the summer! We’re so proud of them and are delighted to share their inspiring stories with you.

Emily’s Journey to U.C. Berkeley

Emily Diaz spent the first nine years of her life with her mother in Mexico, and then came to California to live with her dad. “At first, it was very scary to come to a new place at that age,” she recalls. Emily knew no English, and had grown up in a small town in Mexico where everyone knew each other and she had lots of extended family.

In California, the community was much different. She had to stay inside more instead of roaming free around her familiar hometown with her old friends and cousins. But her mother had sent Emily to California so she could spend time with her father and have a better chance of getting a college education.

“Where I’m from in Mexico, not many people go to college,” she explains. “Most people get jobs in the service industry. My mom really wanted me to go to college.”

When she arrived in California, she was enrolled in fifth grade. Her teacher was a bilingual English-Spanish speaker of Puerto Rican descent, and took the time to explain things to Emily in Spanish so she could complete her assignments and keep pace with the class. This was a tremendous help. Emily’s father also helped her by teaching her how to pronounce words in English. Additionally, Emily took advantage of afterschool reading programs and tutoring services. By the end of her fifth grade year, young Emily was fluent in reading, writing, and speaking both English and Spanish!

 

Throughout middle school and high school, Emily has felt a strong sense of responsibility to set a good example for her two younger sisters, who she lives with (they are her father’s daughters from his current marriage). In fact, with her father’s overprotective nature and her regular duty to pick up her sisters after school and bring them home, Emily was not allowed to participate in after school extra-curricular activities until her junior year. It was then that she joined HerStory’s Teen Club, which meets every Friday after school. Being a member of our Teen Club has been a very positive experience for her. “It’s important,” she says, “It’s easier to be around girls when talking about more personal things. Other girls can relate to your personal stories.”  The free write is a part of the HerStory programming that Emily particularly enjoys. She plans to major in English at UC Berkeley and wants to be a writer as her profession. “I want to create things,” she says, “Maybe fiction, or journalism, or screenplays. I want to tell stories.” Emily is the first in her family to graduate from high school.

 

Another thing Emily liked about the HerStory club was getting to know girls of different ages. When she was a junior, she befriended some senior girls through the HerStory Teen Club. One of them attends UC Berkeley too, and Emily is looking forward to reconnecting with her there next year. This past year, Emily had the experience of being a senior member in Teen Club, and enjoyed guiding younger girls. She says in the future she would like to be a mentor for girls.

Beth’s Road to Humboldt State University

Emily’s good friend Beth Clayson also joined the HerStory teen club at Nova Academy during her junior year. As a young girl, her early school experiences involved navigating bullies in elementary school and a very restrictive middle school that she describes as “prison-like.” However, certain teachers stood out and had a positive influence on her during those years. She recalls that in elementary school, Ms. Davies created a safe space for students, allowing Beth and others to hang out in her classroom during lunch. And Mr. Lance helped prepare Beth for her transition to middle school.

A shy child coping with insecurities, Beth says she entered middle school in 6th grade without any friends. But in 7th grade, she took Mr. Radford’s drama class, and that’s when she began to come out of her shell.

 

“Theater to me is kind of like a family,” she says, smiling broadly and her eyes lighting up. “Once a drama geek, always a drama geek.” The genre Beth loves most is musical theater, and at the moment her two favorite shows are Hamiltonand Dear Evan Hanson. “In musicals,” Beth explains, “lots of the songs are personal. I can relate to them, and they inspire me.”

Theater and the HerStory Teen Club have been two important outlets for Beth, who shares that she has struggled with depression and anxiety. She notes that for many kids, dealing with the stigma associated with mental illness adds another layer of difficulty to an already tough situation. “Kids today experience a lot of stress,” she says. “And many of them feel that they can’t talk to their parents about it, because of the stigma. Parents are of another generation; they might have the mindset that going to a therapist means you’re crazy; they might blame themselves or get mad instead of getting help for their kid.” But Beth believes that talking openly about these issues goes a long way toward busting the taboo. Open dialogue with her friends and mentors at the HerStory Teen Club have strengthened her confidence and self-advocacy skills. Recently, her own mother’s mindset has begun to evolve as she’s been exposed to more information.

In this next chapter of her life, Beth plans to major in social work at Humboldt State University, so that in her future career she can help kids and their families who are dealing with mental illness and emotional challenges. “If I can make a difference in one person’s life, show them they’re not alone, that’s what I want to do.” Her older brother, a Humboldt State graduate himself, has been an inspiration to Beth. As a feminist, he has served as a reliable advocate and champion for her over the years, often backing up her stances and choices in the face of other family members who hold more traditional and sometimes oppressivebeliefs about gender roles.

Beth values the close friendships she has made in Teen Club, and the safe space it provides for teen girls to talk about important topics that are not usually discussed in other circles. Like Emily, Beth wants to positively influence the younger girls in the group. “I always try to teach them body positivity,” she says as an example. “Being confident in yourself. At the end of the day, each one of us is an individual, and we all need to learn to love ourselves.”

 

Tomorrow’s Women Leaders: The Future is Bright

What an honor it is for Global G.L.O.W. to play a part of the journeys of these two amazing young women. It’s inspiring to see the strength they’ve shown in overcoming barriers they’ve faced, and the enthusiasm with which they connect with other girls to amplify their voices. We’ll be rooting for them every step of the way as they continue being courageous and curious, nurturing important friendships, working hard to reach their goals, and using their talents and experiences to make the world a better place.