Tahoe Youth & Family Services would like to highlight one of the most impactful projects supported by Heavenly Mountain Resort and the Vail Resorts Echo program. The Girls Project was implemented by TYFS in South Lake Tahoe five years ago. The need for the Girls Project was originally identified by the SLT Youth Task Force, which noticed an increase in violence and bullying among girls. The issue of bullying coupled with the continuing issues of alcohol and drugs significantly impede positive youth development. Staff counselors and outreach workers have noticed in recent years that prevention groups are needed at earlier grades, because children are trying alcohol and drugs at an earlier age. The 2011-12 California Healthy Kids Survey for the Lake Tahoe Unified School District reveals that 25 percent of seventh-graders, more than half of ninth-graders (54 percent), and nearly three-quarters of 11th graders (74 percent) had used alcohol at least once.
The Girls Project empowers teenage girls through training and retreats to become mentors to elementary-age girls. Participants meet weekly after school to build self esteem, create life goals, learn emotional coping skills and healthy choices, and develop positive, healthy and supportive friendships. The goal of the Girls Project is to build community among girls through service, mentorship and activities-based curriculum. The Girls Project benefits about 65 girls annually through four groups of 10-20 elementary school girls and eight middle school and high school teen mentors. The Girls Project provides the consistent support and development of skills needed to reduce the current disparities and improve the future outlook for these local, underserved girls. The long-term benefit goes beyond the critical importance of guiding these 65 at-risk girls toward a positive future. The Girls Project also impacts other youth in our local schools through the positive influence of the participant girls. Instead of getting into fights, being a bully or a target of a bully, becoming pregnant or getting into drugs and alcohol, the Girls Project girls become role models at their schools and help other peers say no to negative activities.
One of our Girls Project teen mentors is a testament to the program’s success: “Caroline’s parents are addicted to drugs and she was initially referred to TYFS for counseling. Heather recruited Caroline to assist in the planning and preparation for weekly Girls Project events as a teen mentor to bolster her counseling experience and provide her with mentorship and service opportunities. Caroline quickly immersed herself in the Girls Project and her new leadership role. Caroline is now the first person in her family to graduate from high school and go to college. The Girls Project provides a safe space where girls can share feelings and experiences, develop a sisterhood of support and prevention, expand opportunities, find value in service, learn healthy choices, and reinforce that learning by mentoring a younger girl.”
— Alissa Nourse is the executive director of Tahoe Youth & Family Services. Erica Eng is the grant, evaluation and data coordinator.