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.”