By Ginger DeShaney
Callie Eastman knows something about leadership. Through South Boston Neighborhood House’s Girls Group, she’s had training.
“It’s very important to learn about leadership,” said the 14-year-old South Boston resident. ”If you don’t know it, it won’t happen.”
Girls Group is an SBNH program for girls ages 10-16 to learn new skills, build social skills, gain leadership skills, and improve interpersonal skills while making lasting friendships.
Callie is a member of the Girls Group Ambassadors. These leaders help pick out activities, events, and places to go for the program. “These are girls I can rely on to … be an example for the younger girls,” said Caitlyn DeCarlo, Education and Career Development Counselor at the Ollie.
Activities and topics for Girls Group include arts & crafts, cooking, yoga, being safe on social media, healthy relationships, and so much more.
“I want them to feel confident and ready for everything that comes to them,” said Caitlyn. “They learn here. We offer resources. I want them feeling successful and confident.”
Several girls shared their thoughts about Girls Group during a recent Zoom call with South Boston Online.
What kind of things have you learned?
- Stella Dearden (13): At the Ollie’s GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math, & Science) program, Stella and Callie did experiments. “We attempted different things. We learned science and math,” Stella said.
- Brooke Eastman (10): “I learned how to pick stuff to do and pick a strategy.” Added Caitlyn, “That’s part of decision-making: Weigh the pros and cons and make smart choices.”
- Maeve Houlihan (11): “I learned what not to post on social media, decision-making, and strategies I could use.”
- Callie: In the GEMS program, “I learned different science experiments and the process of engineering.”
What activities do you like to do at Girls Group?
- Stella: “I like cook night and craft night. I like doing these things.”
- Brooke: “I like going on hikes. I like doing crafts.”
- Maeve: “I like doing crafts.”
- Callie: “I like cook night and crafts night.”
Almost 60 girls are involved in Girls Group, Caitlyn said. Between 30-40 girls come during any given week.
Because of COVID-19, the Girls Group sessions are capped at 10 girls (as opposed to 15-20 pre-COVID). Caitlyn gives parents a monthly schedule and they sign up for sessions weekly. There’s usually a waiting list for each session.
The girls fill out pre-screening forms before entering the building. Masks are required and the girls stay separated as much as they can. There’s a limit to the number of girls at each table and there’s lots of handwashing. Caitlyn wipes everything down to be extra safe, and they clean up after every session.
The group meets Monday through Thursday from 6-8 p.m. at the H Street location. The older girls (13-16 years old) meet on Monday and Thursday; the younger girls (10-12 years old) meet on Tuesday and Thursday. Yoga class on Thursdays is open to both groups. The age group breakdowns are new during COVID, Caitlyn said. Programming was created so the different age levels get similar experiences.
The girls also meet on Saturdays for field trips (such as hiking, which is easier to do with restrictions). Sometimes the Ollie’s boys group, Boyz II Men, joins Girls Group for field trips.
“I’d love to have more girls join, even if it’s only for one or two events,” said Caitlyn. “You can be a part of the Ollie and you can always come back.”
To join, parents fill out a membership card and Caitlyn adds each parent to the parent group chat.
“It’s an opportunity to make a connection to the Ollie,” Caitlyn said. “Some come back to work with us in the summer. We are always a place they can turn to.”
All the girls have Caitlyn’s contact info and they will reach out if they need something. “They can turn to me for support,” she said.
Caitlyn is a movement teacher at Josiah Quincy Elementary School and while she loves her job, the Ollie and Girls Group “is where my heart is. There’s something about giving back to the community that gave to you.”
Caitlyn grew up and still lives in Southie. She was part of the Ollie as a girl but was too shy to join Girls Group. “I probably would have been more outgoing had I joined,” she said. “I was a book nerd.”
Stella, for one, knows that Caitlyn would have benefited from Girls Group: “I don’t know if I was shy before, but if you are shy, it can help you.”
Caitlyn loves to see the girls gain lasting friendships from the group.
Callie believes she has made lifelong friends through Girls Group. “I know people from being from South Boston, but I got really close to the girls at the Ollie.”
Maeve said she’s always been friends with the girls, but “when you walk together to Girls Group and do different things, I got closer to my friends.”
Girls Group also exposes the girls to things they may have never tried.
What new skills have you learned in Girls Group?
- Brooke: “I learned how to make decisions for myself. You have to learn to make decisions because not everyone can make them for you.”
- Maeve: “I learn how to cook; I learn safety rules; I learn how to make my own decisions; I learn how not to touch the stove.”
- Stella: “I like trying new things.”
What do your parents think about Girls Group?
- Stella: “My parents really like it. We can socialize. It gives you something more to do, especially in the winter.”
- Brooke and Callie’s parents like it, too. “It gets me out of the house,” said Brooke. “When we’ve been home all day, we can go to Girls Group after online school,” Callie said.
- Maeve: “My parents like it because all my friends are there. I can spend time with friends and I’m learning new things when I go.”
What else would you like to share about Girls Group?
- Stella: “It’s really fun. I enjoy it.”
- Brooke: “It’s really fun.”
- Callie: “I look forward to it every week.”
Liana Flood, 14, popped in at the end of the Zoom call. Liana doesn’t go to school around here, so being a part of the group helps connect her to the neighborhood. Girls Group “builds connections with kids and the community,” she said.
To learn more about Girls Group, email Caitlyn DeCarlo at email@example.com.