I recently caught up with the Warren-Sharpe Community Center in Joliet, IL to learn how Stacey M Design’s guided journal, What's Your Super Power? benefitted a girls empowerment program affectionately known as BlackGirlJoy. This program was made possible due to a grant that the Center received, allowing Warren-Sharpe’s Executive Director, Kay Bolden, to purchase a copy of Stacey’s guided journal for each of the girls.
BlackGirlJoy was designed to give girls a place to have creative expression, go on field trips, and do service projects for senior citizens. “We involve them in activities where they’re able to personally accomplish and achieve something, which leads to an increased level of productivity and empowerment,” explained Bolden. “The activities help the girls increase their self-esteem. By giving them constant praise, they start creating things with their own hands and then begin achieving the goals that they set out for themselves. Because black girls living in low-income neighborhoods have so many barriers that prevent them from feeling successful, we created this program so that they would have the opportunity to be mentored by successful black women.”
Bolden went on to explain, “Based on this philosophy, we’ve included Dr. Tennille Allen, a Sociology professor at Lewis University, to be part of our curriculum and program. With her expertise, these girls are able to generate their own passions and ideas for what they might want to do with their lives, and then we simply give them opportunities to do that.”
For an entire year, the girls meet regularly to participate in the grant-funded program, where they celebrate their history, see their own gifts, and learn how to believe in themselves and their community. To learn a little more about how the journals were used, I then contacted Dr. Allen for her feedback as to how the girls responded to using Stacey’s guided journal.
“We had a group of about 15 girls who utilized the journals over the summer months, and each week, our goal was to complete one exercise together. The nice thing was that the journals were easy enough for the girls to complete without my instruction, but I still appreciated having the Leader’s Guide as an extra resource. The Leader’s Guide was helpful in fostering more group discussion about the exercises themselves,” explained Dr. Allen.
The girls ranged in age from 8-14 and that they ALL utilized the journals with equal enthusiasm. Dr. Allen was pleasantly surprised to see that the older girls in the group did not find any of the content too childish. Instead, she shared that every girl in the group liked the exercises and found the journal to be personally beneficial. “The girls definitely liked the journals. In the few instances where we didn’t have time to use the journals that week, the girls were quick to vocalize their disappointment. They just loved the idea of having superpowers. The exercises really caused them to think about all the qualities they possess as well as the ones that they still want to develop in the future,” Dr. Allen stated.
I was told that the girls specifically enjoyed the exercises in the journal called "Big Dreams" and "Their Winner Self.” These exercises closely matched the BlackGirlJoy’s overall mission: empowering girls with self-confidence and appreciation for who they really are. Kay Bolden went on to share this:
“Having these journals added another layer to what we were already doing: giving support, helping them feel empowered, working on healthy body image, reaching healthy boundaries in relationships, and having healthy communication so that they can see themselves as the superstars that they already are. So naturally, when I met Stacey Montgomery and looked at her recent publication, it was just the perfect fit for what we were already doing! The journals just gave us an additional resource we could use right away. We hope that Stacey publishes more guided journals because they definitely were a success in our eyes.”
Warren-Sharpe Community Center is a community-based organization offering social service programs and assistance to families on Joliet’s south side. The Center has a special commitment to serving youth, and operates innovative programs targeting at-risk preschool students, grade school students, teens, young moms/dads, and youth involved in the juvenile justice system.
Founded in 1991 by the late Kathleen Bolden, the Center began with a mission of cultivating neighborhood solutions to neighborhood problems, and a goal of creating a safe, nurturing place for youth in the midst of a struggling community. From its inception, the Center was supported by United Way of Will County, the City of Joliet, Sacred Heart Church and numerous civic organizations.
Since 2014, the Center’s youth-run urban farm initiative, Green Sprout Urban Farm, has provided fresh, organic vegetables and herbs for children in program and their families.
~Jessica Olivito, Contributing Editor