Contributed by: Jasmine Castleberry, Program Manager
Jasmine Castleberry worked with GEN first in 2010 helping to facilitate and expand the Girl Talk Workshops. She left GEN to pursue other ways of serving the community, including as Program Director at Harlem Children’s Zone, before returning to the agency in 2016 as Houston Engagement Specialist. This fall, Jasmine moved to a full-time role as a Program Manager, facilitating GEN curricula in for girls in Houston as the agency expands its work in the region.
For over 20 years Girls Empowerment Network (GEN) has been igniting the power in girls in Austin, and has grown exponentially as it helps more and more girls believe in their ability to be unstoppable. With a myriad of programs provided for girls in Central Texas it’s no wonder the girls’ focused organization would set their eyes on the state’s largest city: Houston.
Rich in culture and diversity, the Greater Houston area has a history of being one of the nation’s more sought after regions with thousands migrating to the city annually. The city thrives with rich opportunities in the arts, sciences, and politics; it’s a hub for international exchange and domestic design concepts. Opportunity and access abound freely in Houston, but with a rapidly expanding population, it also has one of the highest rates of sex trafficking in the country, according to FreetheCaptivesHouston.com. Statistics show that there are rising rates of young girls participating in self-harmful behavior. These facts outline a clear need for programs like GEN in Houston.
What do girls want?
Houston is just the place to welcome an organization like Girls Empowerment Network. Fortunately, the forward thinking organization is no stranger to the city. This year alone GEN saturated neighborhoods throughout the Greater Houston area, and partnered with local middle and high schools, detention centers, churches, and supportive adults to get the word out about the organization. Within the past two years the organization has hosted two successful conferences (We Are Girls Houston) for girls in 3rd-8th grades that has already demonstrated a staggering growth pattern: from 800 attendees in 2016 to 1600 in 2017.
This past summer I had the opportunity to facilitate workshops on our Healthy Relationships, Communications, and Goal Setting curricula for almost 100 girls, and the response was overwhelming. Girls are yearning for new learning opportunities and ongoing conversations with adults they can trust. They are curious and open-minded; they want to push their limits as they learn, explore, and grow. A few girls recognized GEN from having attended We Are Girls Houston in April, and expressed their excitement for being able to explore the topics within a smaller group session with girls from their school, girls with whom they were acquainted. Because girls from all over the city limits attend the conference, oftentimes girls participate in sessions in which they don’t know anyone else.
During the workshops, the girls told me how hesitant they were about speaking up or voicing their opinions for fear of being ridiculed or judged. But in this space (the workshops were held at their school, Hogg Middle School), they could interact without reservation with friends and schoolmates, which would make it easier to continue the conversations even after I left.
The Girls Empowerment Network has answered the call.
GEN builds the girls’ ability to be unstoppable by bringing them into the fold, and gives them the tools they need to think introspectively and start the conversations that help them find and exercise their power within their own lives. Not only girls, but educators, mentors, parents, and supportive adults have identified the need for more girl specific programming in Houston.
Houston IS strong.
Diversity and inclusion is what Houston is about, and each GEN group, each new conversation in a GEN-created space, has been representative of that. As the city rebuilds from August’s natural disaster, one thing remains clear: Houston girls are stronger and more resilient than ever. No matter the circumstances girls still need to feel safe. They still need to feel empowered and know there are caring adults waiting to support their growth and success.
The Girls Empowerment Network is just the organization Houston needs to lead the charge.