"Community programming that focuses on the strengths and successes already in the lives of adolescent girls can be a powerful way of supporting and empowering them further.." ( Girls Group Mentoring Toolkit 2015)
In June 2017, a group for teenage girls was started at the Neighbourhood House in the regional town of St Helens on the East Coast of Tasmania. This was in response to an apparent lack of services specific to the needs of that demographic and to research a developmental approach to intergenerational exchange of understanding between women and girls.
The group, named Free 2 BE gradually established a solid footing in the community and now provides a valued service to girls from the local high school. Up to 15 girls, age 12-15, have participated in the group after school for 2 hours each Wednesday for nearly 2 years.
Activities have always been generated from within the group itself with no prescribed objectives or outcomes other than discovering opportunities for personal growth and positive social engagement.
Women from the local community have helped provide an environment that is nurturing, safe and understanding of the unique qualities of adolescent girls whilst ensuring their own personal needs as volunteers are respected.
Many of the girls in the St Helens Free 2 BE group have expressed how much they value their Free 2 BE Wednesday afternoons as a reprieve from the challenges of their everyday lives.
They describe it is a space where they can: ‘relax in’ , ‘just be ourselves in’ , ‘have fun’ and ‘ not go home and just do screens.’
Some of the girls have come to the group on days when they haven’t attended school, and one girl who recently got a job at a local café, asked if her shift could be changed so she could keep attending her girls group.
After 2 years of operations the St Helens Free2 BE group is now entering a new phase of growth and development in response to an obvious and natural desire amongst the girls to begin expanding into the community and find expression for their identified interests and motivations.
Local facilitators are actively working to match the girls’ personal interests and aspirations for social and economic participation with opportunities from within their community. The primary aim is to identify avenues for connection between generations and with local businesses and to create a locally run ‘wrap around’ support system for the young women in the St Helens area.
The ongoing, regular attendance of the girls in the St Helens Free 2 BE group is strong evidence that the way this group is run is successfully catering for the specific needs and values of this demographic. The Free2b Girls Program and the Free 2b Approach to Youth and Community engagement are based upon this St Helens model.
Free2b Girls is now expanding the prototype that’s been established in St Helens into other regional areas of Tasmania and Australia so that the benefits of this program can be shared further afield...