Igniting Rebel Women: Community Volunteers Advocate for Girls’ Empowerment at Boys and Girls Clubs in Metro Atlanta
By Shara Garwood Sanders, JD, President, Champions Club for GIRLS, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta
Rebellious girls can change the world in so many ways.
They start out being who they are despite what others say.
And after that’s said and done, they wonder what’s unfair.
They have big ideas, fight for what’s right, and show the world they care.
On a sweltering summer day at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, girl members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA) beamed with pride as they recited this “Rebel Girls Creed”.
The girls were aged between 10 and 15 and all took part in an 8-week leadership and self-confidence workshop and book club inspired by Good night stories for rebel girls, a New York Times bestselling children’s book by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo that features inspiring women throughout history. The Mad Hatter Tea Party was held in July 2019 as the culmination event of the Rebel Girls which included the BGCMA Women’s Giving Society Champions Club for GIRLS—a voluntary organization that I am proud to chair.
Founded in 2011, the Champions Club for GIRLS (or Growing Inspirational and Responsible Leaders) connects women in Atlanta to empower themselves and make a difference in the community. We fundraise, volunteer, support and advocate for all BGCMA members, especially young women.
Our flagship initiatives include the Rebel Women’s Luncheon, an annual event to inspire and connect women by creating space to promote the rebel in all of us; and Senior starter bags, where we provide Club members graduating from high school with the supplies they need to get started on their own. We host special girls-only events including Girls Fitness Day, Career Panels, Girl Talk (an opportunity for girls to discuss and hear from guest speakers on self-love and ways to build self-esteem) and Outfitted for Fitness, where young women are outfitted with new sports bras. We also personally contribute to BGCMA and support the organization’s major fundraisers, including the annual and leadership-focused Youth of the Year Gala and the workforce readiness benefit to TopGolf.
BGCMA’s girl-specific programming teaches girls, young women and all young people to dream big. The organization provides a safe and supportive space for female club members to discover their identity as young women, as well as explore and develop the skills they need to problem solve, innovate and lead.
As a professional woman navigating a male-dominated society and mother of a 14-year-old daughter who is at the center of my world, I understand the importance of organizations like BGCMA in the lives of young women. Growing up, I had a more difficult childhood surrounded by family members struggling with drug addiction and domestic violence. If my brother, sister and I could have gone out and had a place to go like the Boys & Girls Club in Metro Atlanta, I wonder if our lives would have been easier. Maybe if I’d had women like our Champions Club members in my life, I wouldn’t have been in my 30s or 40s before I realized I had something to offer.
Our girls have so much to offer. They truly thrive in life and strengthen their communities and the world. BGCMA rebel girls include Regina Martinez, 17 years old, who is making his way into history as the 2021-2022 BGCMA Youngster of the Year. Her proud Mexican roots and story of triumph fuel her ambitious zest for life and led her to pursue bioengineering and a career building prosthetics and medical equipment. A leader in her club and community, she holds a 4.02 GPA and is a member of the National Honor Society, the local Beta Club, and a Girl Scout troop where she has chaired as president since 2020.
The rebel girls of BGCMA are also doing amazing things in studies and career preparation. In the 2019-20 school year (before the pandemic began), 440 girls participated in girl empowerment programs such as Global Girls, Rebel Girls and/or Girls on the Run, 51% of middle school girls and high school girls reported being active 5 days a week for 1 hour or more, 57% participated in Boys and Girls Club leadership programs such as Keystone, Torch and iCan; and 100% of young women who participated in BGCMA’s career preparation program graduated from high school on time with a plan and post-high school placement.
At BGCMA, 63% of the staff are women and girls constitute 47% of the children and adolescents served in the clubs. Girls like Regina are led by amazing women in their clubs and communities who equip them with skills and opportunities to become strong, confident leaders. Yet the voices and contributions of women and girls remain undervalued in mainstream society.
Rebellious women and girls constantly fight to break down barriers to achieve fair pay, health care and basic human rights. As cliché as it sounds, children are our future. If we want to see changes, we have to invest in them. Giving girls a platform to express their voice and take the lead on issues that matter to them is an important way we can all help break down these barriers while helping to prepare our next generation of leaders.
Investing in our youth through volunteer opportunities and programs like Champions Club for GIRLS helps not only our youth and our community, but also our souls. Seeing how much joy BGCMA members have during our activities really helps me. They give me more than I feel like I gave them. They give me meaning and purpose. Investing in the children and teens of Boys and Girls Clubs is truly an investment in our community, ourselves and the world.
As an attorney and community volunteer, I have been honored to serve in leadership roles with the Junior League of DeKalb County (President, 2017-2019), League of Women Voters of Georgia (Treasurer, 2020 -present) and of course boys and girls. Clubs of Metro Atlanta’s Champions Club for GIRLS (Fundraising Chair, 2020; Chair, 2021-present).
So much has changed in the past two years as we all weathered the storm of COVID-19, including how volunteers can make an impact. For example, our club-based volunteer programming has moved to virtual spaces or socially distanced outdoor arenas. We are excited to finally be able to return to hands-on volunteering opportunities, while continuing to incorporate virtual activities as well. And the need for volunteer leaders and partners who pour out to our young people is greater than ever.
Thanks to the generous support of our community, including donors and volunteer partners, BGCMA has been able to keep its blue doors open during the pandemic and continue to offer affordable after-school and summer programs for children and teens. BGCMA continues to stimulate the unlimited potential of children and adolescents by creating safe, inclusive and engaging environments, with programs focusing on academics, healthy lifestyles, character and leadership. The organization now serves children and teens at 26 club sites in 11 counties. That’s 26 different locations in 11 different Atlanta metro areas where you can impact the lives of young people.
In addition to Champions Club activities, BGCMA offers a myriad of impactful programs specifically for young women, including SMART Girls, a small-group health, fitness, education and self-esteem program that helps young women learn skills to eat well, stay fit, get good health care and develop relationships positive with their peers and adults; and the Girls Empowerment Movement (GEM) Program, a statewide initiative to increase the physical activity and fitness levels of middle school girls in Georgia through girl-designed and girl-led activities.
My dear members of the Atlanta community, if you are looking to make a tangible impact, I encourage you to support youth-serving organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta. This Women’s History Month and throughout the year, I also challenge you to help ignite rebellion among girls in your community by expanding their sense of what is possible. achieve and exceed.
As a member of the Champions Club for GIRLS, you will:
- see for yourself the impact of your financial support for Boys & Girls Club women’s empowerment programs
- learn more about the issues facing the young women we serve
- engage with the girls and teens in our club through hands-on volunteer opportunities
- meet other women who are leaders in the community.
If you are interested in becoming a member, please visit www.bgcma.org/championsclubforgirls or contact Melody Watson at [email protected].