“I am enough.
“I am not worth more and less than another.
“I have a right to take up space.
“I have a right to use my voice.
“I am human and I make mistakes.
“I am here to support my sisters.
“I will show respect to myself with positive self-talk.
“My words and thoughts have power.
“I am valuable.”
Those are the statements for life local author Shelly Boyum-Breen passed on to a group of about 65 girls during the first-ever Girls Empowerment Institute Wednesday, Aug. 7, at Central Lakes College.
The goal of the event was just what the title stated.
“To empower girls, which means a whole lot of different things and different things for different people,” said Jane Peterson, CLC volleyball coach and physical education instructor, who helped organize the event.
“Mostly it was to provide a positive opportunity for girls third through eighth grade to be around positive role models and hear just a lot of positive messages about how it’s OK to be you and how to know who you are and how to tell your own story and how to try new things and not be afraid of failing,” Peterson added.
A talk Boyum-Breen gave at CLC earlier in the spring prompted the idea for the institute. Peterson said Mary Sam, CLC’s director of diversity, equity and tribal relations, heard the Brainerd author speak for the first time then and wanted to hear more.
“It was Shelly’s inspiration that made us want more of her,” Peterson said.
Boyum-Breen is a native of Brainerd and is known for her “Shelly Bean the Sports Queen” series of children’s books. The stories follow the sporty Shelly Bean, a spunky little girl who is determined to learn new sports, despite falling down and getting hurt. Boyum-Breen travels all over the country for readings and speaking engagements to carry the inspirational message of perseverance and help show others positive role models.
“Anytime we have the opportunity to reach girls in particular and help them choose their narrative rather than having the world tell them what their narrative is going to be, helping them find their voice, we’re really making a difference,” Boyum-Breen said after Wednesday’s event, which was funded by a grant from the Brainerd Women’s Fund.
Sam and her staff helped lead the event, along with Peterson’s volleyball players, who took charge of small groups.
Topics and presentations included “Creating your own story,” “Don’t give up on me,” “You can,” and “Get to know you.”
Along with playing sports in a fun, friendly environment, a big part of the day’s activities was teaching the girls to understand and control their emotions, a lesson 10-year-old Bethany Black Lance said she will remember.
“I liked that because that’s when you learn that others might be mad but that’s not who they are,” she said.
For 10-year-old Abby Mayers, making new friends was the highlight of the day. And for 8-year-old Brynn Carlson, it was learning about herself and her gender.
“It was really neat to just learn Shelly’s story and learn a lot more about why being a girl is sometimes better than being a boy because we have many more advantages,” Carlson said, noting she also felt a sense of community throughout the day.
“Even when you’re in your toughest times, other people are there with you,” she said.
One of the last things the girls did before ending the day with root beer floats was write down fears, bad experiences or negative feelings about themselves and take turns burning the papers in a bonfire outside.
Though Boyum-Breen told the girls those bad experiences and negative thoughts are still always going to be a part of them, the burning activity was meant to help cleanse them and move forward with a more positive mindset.
“It’s part of what makes up who you are,” she said. “But what we wanted you to do is clear your mind and clear your heart so those things don’t hold you back.”
At the end of the day, the girls went away with signed copies of Shelly Bean books and, hopefully, a strong sense of belonging with the girls and women they met.
“We want to remind you that everyone of us here has had hopes and dreams,” CLC President Hara Charlier told the girls. “And we’ve had challenges, and we know how it is to not have it easy sometimes. And you’re never alone. So I think what you’ll hear is that all the people here want you to be able to achieve your goals, and you will always be a part of this group.”
Boyum-Breen knows for sure her message reached at least a few girls.
“Knowing that there were probably nine or 10 times today that I was so moved by something that one of the girls said, and I could have cried, just made me think that we were definitely making an impact and helping these girls have an opportunity,” Boyum-Breen said. “And we might not have reached them all, but if we just reached some of them, it matters, and that’s what feels good in my heart. And I know that they’ll take some of this forward with them.”
For more photos, go to https://bit.ly/2ZMvUUA.