In 2014, four of my friends and I started a Health Professions Affinity Community (HPAC) project through Bio-Med Science Academy that became really meaningful to us. Like thousands of other students, Samantha Bogo, Natalie Hopp, Gianna Polichena, Astrid Sarfo and I joined HPAC because we wanted the opportunity to attack an issue in our community. It turned out that HPAC, a program started back in 2012 by NEOMED’s Gina Weisbalt, Ph.D., and Erik Porfeli, Ph.D., was just the platform for change that we needed.
While researching issues in our communities, we came across numerous statistics regarding low self-esteem in young females. We realized we could relate to what the girls might be going through, having just experienced it ourselves a few years before. The result was the creation of our girl empowerment program, Dynamic Darlings. When we chose the name, we picked a fireworks logo to match and the slogan “Embrace your inner spark!” The goal of the program is to empower third- through fifth-grade girls through lessons in nutrition, fitness, positive self-esteem and healthy relationships.
We implemented the program by running weekly sessions in elementary schools. As the sessions went on, it was exciting to see girls who started out shy emerging as leaders in group discussions. Weekly events included activities like a life-size game of Hungry-Hungry Hippos and making paper flowers with positive messages that the students wrote to one another on the petals. At the last session, the young girls presented each of us five co-creators with a card filled with motivational sayings like “Girl Power” and “be-YOU-tiful.” To know that we taught the girls to be confident in their own skin was one of the most satisfying successes, since that was our goal from the project’s conception.
Our program’s impact continued long after the final session. Samantha Bogo said she was shopping one day at the mall when one of the mothers of our participants recognized her. “She thanked me for helping her daughter in ways that she never thought possible and for giving her the confidence to be the bright young girl she is,” Bogo said.
At the end of April 2016, the five of us got the chance to attend Scholar’s Day, an annual HPAC event for participants to present the results of their projects to other HPAC members. Our poster received outstanding recognition, our oral presentation received honorable mention and we were recipients of the growth award. It was really fulfilling to be recognized for the good we are doing in our local communities.
We will continue to work on the program this academic year by implementing it in additional local elementary schools and developing a recruitment process to sustain the program. It’s nice to think that after we graduate, it will go on.
--Gabrielle Biltz is a senior at Bio-Med Science Academy and an intern in the NEOMED Office of Public Relations and Marketing.