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Fostering Leadership in Girls

141952495By Kristina Schnack Kotlus

I was excited to hear that Prince William Living would be honoring female leaders in our community in this month’s issue. We have so many tremendous people working to make greater Prince William the fantastic place that it is, and recognizing some shining stars among the group is inspirational to everyone—especially the next generation.

While growing up, I was always particularly moved by stories of fearless females of great achievement who’d paved the way before me, such as Madame Curie and Madeleine Albright.

Born in 1867, Curie, whose full name was Marie Skłodowska- Curie, was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win in two fields and the only person—period—to win in multiple sciences. Madame Curie was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and, in 1995, she became the first woman entombed on her own merits in Paris’s Panthéon, a mausoleum housing the remains of notable French citizens. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Curie)

The first woman to become U.S. Secretary of State, serving from 1997 to 2001, Albright continues to be the highest ranking woman in the history of U.S. government. She has a distinguished and impressive career in foreign affairs, holds a Ph.D. and many honorary degrees and in 2012 U.S. President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Today she serves on the boards of a number of political think tanks and federal government bodies and chairs a global strategy company and its affiliate, an emerging markets investment advisory firm. She is also a Georgetown University professor and has authored numerous New York Times bestsellers.

It was in the Girl Scouts that I first learned about these and many other influential female leaders. Participating in such organizations aimed at helping girls achieve success can be educational and inspire future leaders. These groups can also be great family fun. Many help your child find a new hobby, or even get the whole family involved in an activity, such as camping.

Girls (and boys) can foster and develop leadership skills through a variety of organized activities, including sports, school clubs, church programs and co-ed groups, such as Venture Scouting, a section of the Boy Scouts of America that is for young men and women roughly ages 14 to 20.

To get started, here are three programs in Prince William just for girls:

American Heritage Girls (www.AHGonline.org)

This nationwide Christ-centered character development program has four troops in Prince William, including one in Gainesville, one in Bristow and two in Woodbridge. Each meets weekly at its chartered local church. (Each troop is chartered by a different church and meets on a different weekday.) Members can earn patches for achievements in various disciplines.

Local American Heritage Girls leader Heidi Reichert said she knows how important role models are for girls, which is why she became involved with the organization when her daughter was in kindergarten, she said.

“There are plenty of female role models, but not all are positive,” she said. “I can think of quite a few positive role models that have shaped me into who I am today, including my own scout leaders, teachers, and Sunday school teachers and absolutely my mom. A positive role gives us something positive to try to achieve.”

Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital (www.gscnc.org)

Described on its website as the premier leadership development organization for girls in kindergarten through 12th grade, this regional council of the Girl Scouts of America shares its parent organization’s mission to build girls “of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place.” (www.girlscouts.org)

More than just hawking cookies, girls can earn awards, learn new skills and eventually lead their own adult- supervised meetings. Prince William (“Association 80”) is one of several areas that form the council, comprised of Girl Scout troops throughout Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia. Prince William includes 11 “service units” that together encompass communities in most of the area. Check your local school or the council’s website to find a troop near you.

Registration is $15. Local troop leader Lisa Darcy said the organization makes available financial assistance if needed to help cover not only the registration fee, but also troop dues and basic uniform items so that no girl is unable to participate because of family finances.

Girls on the Run of Northern Virginia (www.gotrnova.org)

Girls on the Run® is a developmental youth sports program that integrates running to help foster healthy living, leadership and confidence in girls in the third through eighth grades. (There’s also a Girls on Track program for girls in grades six through eight.) The nonprofit organization, Girls on the Run of Northern Virginia, based in Fairfax, is the largest independent council of its national parent organization, Girls on the Run International. Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park are among the areas it serves throughout the region.

Girls on the Run of Northern Virginia serves about 200 public and private schools (including 25 in Prince William County), where it offers its 10-week program twice a year: in the fall and spring. Teams meet twice a week, just before or after school.

Girls on the Run lessons cover topics that include gender stereotypes, self-esteem and healthy habits and relationships. Girls also learn what “collaborative leadership” means, the importance of being a collaborative leader in today’s society and how to apply collaborative leadership skills to different situations.

No matter which program you enroll your daughter in, I hope she and your family enjoy the benefits of groups aimed at teaching her new skills and building confidence. Bonus—you may also gain a new running buddy or the chance to play taste-tester for a baking badge!

Kristina Schnack Kotlus is a local mother of three children and the owner of PWCMoms.com, a resource for parents and families in Prince William County. 

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