Canton tweens, teens gaining confidence learning how to lead like a girl

Program designed to build confidence, self-esteem, leadership in young women

CANTON, Mich. – Getting young women to rethink what it means to do something like a girl is the goal of a program designed to build confidence, self-esteem and leadership in young women.

Lead #Like A Girl is a leadership program for middle and high school girls developed by the Canton Leisure Services, which operates B.L.O.C.K-building leaders out of Canton's Kids. In its second year, the purpose of the program is to not only empower young women but to redefine the perception of what girls and women can do.

"They can't be what they can't see, and that's so true, and we want to expose them to everything we can," said Laura Mortier, the program coordinator.

The name for the program came from a 2015 Super Bowl ad from Always that inspired the nation to rethink what it means to do something "like a girl." The phrase, which was formally seen as an insult, has developed into a positive and inspiring movement.

"The point was those young girls (in the commercial) didn't know what society, what boxes they're being put in, so when we saw that commercial, we're like, that's the perfect name for it, to do something like a girl and to be proud of it, to lead like one and ultimately live like one," Mortier said.

Through this program, girls meet every month to tackle a variety of topics related to social issues and pressures that they may face, including self-esteem, healthy living and relationships. They are also exposed to community service, career exploration and female leaders in the community that are making a difference.

"To empower young women and to inform them of resources and opportunities in the community to allow them to interact with these female "she-roes" in the community and make connections with them for future opportunities," Mortier said.

The group tackles different topics every month. The girls recently spent time with Patty Esselink, of the Canton Police Department, and Maureen Stoecklein, of the Canton Fire Department, to learn about women succeeding in male-dominated fields.

"This program has definitely helped me," said Giovanna Pizza, 15. "I can already feel myself becoming more confident as a person, and my friends have kind of noticed that, too, and I definitely like that, because it's something I've wanted to improve on for a while."

By encouraging social skills and confidence, 'Lead #Like a Girl' teaches them to have no limits and that anything is possible.

"I learned that the limitations that people tell you are automatically set really don't exist, and you can only set them for yourself," said Brooke Wilson, 12.

Empowering, inspiring, and challenging these girls to be true to themselves that is what 'Lead #Like a Girl,' is all about.

"It's a good experience, and it, kind of, makes you feel better about yourself and what you can do," Talena Mechen, 12, said.

Participants in the program graduate in June and can return to be mentors to the younger ones entering the program.

Interested future candidates are encouraged to apply through the B.L.O.C.K. Youth and Teen Center. Applications will be available on The B.L.O.C.K. Youth and Teen Center website at www.canton-mi.org/146 July 2017.