Empowering Education for Girls, a.k.a. Emp.EG
By Maria Blanchard
Power. Power means different things to different people, and when you change the word to empower, there are even more opportunities. I have taken an interest in empowering people, especially young women.
Being a feminist is hard when you are surrounded by people who don’t know what feminism even is or they still believe that is the thought that women must put down men in order to feel important. People such as Amy Poehler, Malala Yousafzai, Gloria Steinem, and even my own mother, have taught me what it truly means to be feminist and what taking a stand really entails. They inspired me to start a club at my own school, a place where gender quality was irrelevant compared to the daily gossip. I was already aware that my friends identified as feminists and were sick of problems involving sexism going unnoticed, especially in our own school. This club that would finally collect other girls my age who cared about the same things that I do, and weren’t afraid to stand up for it. This club would discuss current events without boundaries, their own experiences, and the difference we can make.
The organization of this club began in October of 2014. I was in ELO, which stands for Extended Learning Opportunities. It’s basically a class for gifted students where we discuss current events and do projects involving technology and innovation. I asked my teacher, Ms. Arnell, if she’d be willing to be the teacher chaperone for a feminism club. She immediately said “Sure!” and fist-bumped me, and my heart swelled. I jumped right into telling her what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to talk about. Ms. Arnell continued to agree with everything I said, and the only contradiction she had was that we couldn’t call it a “feminism club”.
This frustrated me. I go to a Middle School where the demographics aren’t very varied. The majority of students are white, Christian, and republican. The belief that men are superior to women and were stronger in almost every way is still alive here, and the girls have strict limits in what they can wear to school, in regards to the fear of distracting boys. Only a handful of girls saw error in this, and we were determined to draw them out. The fact that the use of the word “feminist” or “feminism” wouldn’t be tolerated was discouraging and frankly unreasonable, but there was no way it would slow us down.
The first meeting was set to be November 3rd, and we had no idea how many girls to expect. The day finally rolled around, and as I settled in the ELO room, I was surprised to see at least 15 or 20 girls fill the room. The first couple meetings consisted of lists of discussable topics being created, videos and articles being read, and guest speakers contacted. About a month into the meetings, we found a volunteer opportunity that seemed almost too perfect for us.
Casa De Paz, an organization set up to help battered women, had a fundraising brunch planned in order to gather funds that would eventually lead to the purchase of a safe house. Our club seized the opportunity to help out the women of our community, and immediately registered to help at the event. The brunch happened on December 21st, and although it was successful, not nearly enough money was collected to buy this essential house.
The girls of EmpEG decided to take it a step further. We wanted to help this lovely organization, but not in a small way. Ms. Arnell curated the idea of holding our own fundraiser, and the idea shot off. A shoe drive would be held, and each pair of shoes would be given to a company that would donate them to families in poverty. Not only would this help the less fortunate, we would also get $0.40 per pound of shoes, and this money would be given to the Casa De Paz.
The fundraiser began the beginning of January, and ends mid-March. Our goal is to collect 300 bags of shoes, with 25 pairs in each. So far, we have a little over 30 bags, meaning we have ways to go in a short amount of time. We have extended this drive to all the elementary schools in our district in hopes to rally in more shoes. We still have around a month left and are thinking about promoting this fundraiser in other places around the community, such as restaurants, gyms, and perhaps the high schools in our community. Our club is doing everything we can to provide help to women who need it the most.
There is no better feeling than being surrounded by women who support and believe in you, and this club has granted this feeling to every member. Every young women deserves to be in a place where they feel safe and their ideas and opinions are respected, and that’s the reason I wanted to start this club. Although I’m graduating to High School next year, I sincerely hope this group continues to meet and inspire and educate young girls and chooses to continue making the world a better place.
Maria's School is Forest Hills, in Southeastern Ohio.
You can find Maria on Twitter at @Colorblind
*Please note that not all experiences, beliefs and ideas are shared by each member of the The New Hollywood.” We are a group of shepherds, not sheep.