By Gina V. Ramsey
In an audience of over 10,000, Claudia Copley felt like the speaker’s message was meant directly for her. While attending the California Women’s Conference, then first-lady of California Maria Shriver delivered a message of encouragement and activism.
“I felt as if she was speaking directly to me when she asked to consider what I could do to bring change in my community,” Copley recalled. “I wondered, how can I use my talents and
voice to help others.” But then old past negative thoughts crept in to squash the sprout of hope that was trying to take root: worthless, dumb, ugly….
“I was born into a dysfunctional environment, so I did not learn self-confidence and the power of using my voice until I was an adult woman,” Copley said.
These thoughts were echoes of her middle school self, the self that lacked confidence, positive self-esteem, hope. And yet, it was during this inner battle that the resolve began to rise.
“I knew in that instant that I wanted to create something similar to the women’s conference but to target young girls,” Copley said. “To create a program that would give young girls a positive and safe environment for them to learn their self-worth because I know personally that it is much better to learn esteem at a young age instead of waiting like I did, as an adult.”
Copley, currently a certified professional and empowerment coach, began informally polling girls and women about their own experiences with self-esteem and confidence, and realized the unfortunate consensus: middle school is usually a time when poor self-esteem and negative self-talk begins to shape a girl’s outlook on her life, influencing her choices in life. Digging deeper into articles and studies revealed to Copley that the link between negative self-image and youth overwhelmingly showed that girls are more likely than boys to struggle during this time in their development.
“Many women shared that they lacked positive role models in their families, schools, neighborhoods, and communities,” she said.
With no prior experience in non-profits (“I had to read Non-profits for Dummies!”), Copley began to reach out to supportive women who personally believed in her mission. She focused on middle school age girls because “girls are at their most vulnerable selves during these years.”
So in 2010, Copley founded 4GIRLS, or Getting Inspired 4 Real Life Success, a 100% volunteer-based organization that aims “to inspire and empower middle school girls to identify
themselves as authentic, confident, and resilient, preparing them for real-life success.”
With the help of other like-minded, compassionate women, 4GIRLS puts together annual no-cost-to-participants 2-day workshops that focus on teaching girls new skills that encourage and motivate them to make healthy life choices by incorporating topics such as goal setting, leadership skills, health and nutrition, self-defense, body-image and bullying. Participants must apply and commit to both workshop days. Copley and other volunteers have been blown away by the metamorphosis they witness in a weekend. From shy, unsure girls the morning of day one, to confident inspired young ladies by the afternoon of day two.
“Right before my eyes, a transformation was happening,” said Yesmean Rihbany, current 4GIRLS board president. “Girls would walk in quiet and shy and by the end they were standing in front of the room saying how they valued themselves.”
Rihbany, an organization development consultant, was invited to attend a workshop by another board member several years ago and was amazed by what she experienced. When she saw the way girls encouraged each other, how they came out of their shells, and heard the positive feedback from parents, she knew she wanted to support 4GIRLS.
“Being able to contribute in even a small way is infinitely rewarding,” Rihbany said. “And I think no matter how old [women] get, there is always a middle school girl inside….we continue our personal growth. Knowing we are making a difference is so meaningful to me.”
Another one of 4GIRLS treasured projects is their Junior Mentor team, a leadership program for high school girls to mentor the middle schoolers. Junior Mentors are usually past middle-school participants who have been so deeply influenced that they are motivated to return to workshops and events to be an added layer of support and encouragement.
Two such young ladies that went through weekend workshops as middle-schoolers and are now proud Junior Mentors are Raquel G. and Yareli A. When 4GIRLS had a female empowerment presentation at her middle school, Raquel became intrigued and applied to their weekend workshop.
“Starting from being a shy middle schooler to now being an outgoing drama kid has been in part due to the confidence the workshop instilled in me,” 17-year-old Raquel said. “Also just knowing that other [girls] were going through the same rough time I was at that age made me feel connected and part of a community.”
Raquel had such a good experience as a participant in part because of the Junior Mentors who coached her, that she decided she wanted to be that source of positive influence to
“When I was attending my first workshop, [Kirsten Miller] was my mentor and one of the people who inspired me to stay with the program,” she said. “Everything kind of came full circle when in one of the workshops I was able to work as a mentor alongside her.”
Her favorite memory is taking part in a self-defense mini class offered during the workshop.
“My first year as a Junior Mentor I was one of the first to go up and punch the pads, and I remember everyone clapping and cheering me on after I yelled a battle cry and gave the pad all I had!” Raquel recalled. “I think that’s the essence of 4GIRLS: being part of a supportive and
loving environment while having a blast!”
During the workshops, 4GIRLS chooses a word as the theme for the weekend. Words like compassion, inspiring, confidence, creative, tenacious. Raquel believes these words seep into each girls’ emerging new identity while being a part of the event.
The power of words is a truth that Copley knows well, from the hurtful negative ones she felt as a young girl that tried to steal her excitement at the Women’s Conference, to the empowering ones she now showers on the middle school girls who attend the workshops.
High school junior Yareli is another success story from 4GIRLS. When she attended the workshop at the age of 11, it was through chance that she found out about this organization. She had gone along to drop off her sister who had signed up for the event and asked to stay. Being a part of 4GIRLS has helped her become more confident and happier with herself.
“I always had problems with body image and just feeling comfortable in my own skin,” Yareli said. “4GIRLS helped me accept that my body is sacred and that I am perfect just the way I am. I have been with them since I was 11 years old. Now as a 16-year-old, I feel like I have a completely different mindset.”
Copley remembers Yareli as a nervous young girl who lacked self-confidence and worried how she was perceived by other students. But the support and encouragement Yareli received in her first workshop sparked a desire to return as a Junior Mentor. Eventually, the apprehensive and anxious little girl grew into a confident young lady and was the 4GIRLS keynote speaker at their annual fundraiser gala event in 2019.
“I would have never been able to speak in front of a group like that without the amazing experience and lessons I learned from 4GIRLS,” Yareli said. Copley emphasizes the impact girls can have when given a safe space to explore and discover their uniqueness.
“When girls are empowered, they tend to make better life choices, which leads to better life outcomes that benefit not only them, but their future families and communities,” Copley said. “We want them to understand and accept that they have a voice, and it is powerful, and that they will be their own best advocates in carving out a bright future with endless possibilities.”
Yareli and Raquel are examples of how deeply a program like 4GIRLS can affect young impressionable pre-teens and teenagers.
“Being in 4GIRLS has definitely made me change as a person and feel confident about being a woman,” Raquel said. “The experience they are able to provide to not just the girls, but the adult and Junior Mentors, like myself, is knowledge taken and applied in our daily lives.”
Words can become labels that can either uplift or tear down, which is why 4GIRLS spotlights constructive affirmations at their workshops. Girls are asked to pick a word for themselves and to share it at the end of day 2. When one 12-year old was handed the microphone to share the word she chose for herself during one particular workshop, Copley was left with an impression that continues to fuel her and all the volunteers to keep the mission of 4GIRLS going strong.
“Her word was ‘valuable,’” Copley remembers. “She said ‘before this workshop I did not know I was valuable.’ The image of her saying those words in front of a room full of her peers and adult women will be with me forever.”
4GIRLS, based in Long Beach, is a non-profit organization that inspires and empowers middle school girls to identify themselves as inherently authentic, confident and resilient, preparing them for real-life success. Since 2010, 4GIRLS has delivered high-quality workshops and empowerment events covering topics such as goal setting, leadership skills, health and nutrition, self-defense, body image and bullying – all presented by subject matter experts and
designed to teach middle school girls new skills that encourage and motivate them to make
healthy life choices. 4GIRLS is a 100% volunteer-based organization and all programs are offered at no cost to the girls. Learn more at inspiration4girls.org.