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Club gives at risk girls hope

By Kelli Stopczynski
Published On: Sep 24 2013 09:00:38 AM CDT
Updated On: Sep 24 2013 09:03:43 AM CDT

Baking cookies is such a simple thing. But for a handful of 8-14 year-old girls at St. Margaret's House in South Bend, it's so much more.

Baking cookies is such a simple thing. But for a handful of 8-14 year-old girls at St. Margaret's House in South Bend, it's so much more. 

It all started when Saint Mary's College junior and nursing major Sarah Hossfeld applied for and received a $1,000 grant through the college last spring. She agreed to use the money to improve the community. 

"A lot of them just kind of wanted someone to talk to," Hossfeld said. "I had initially wanted to go in there and talk about nutrition, body language and exercising because I think that even as a girl my age, those are really tough issues."

Saint Margaret's House is a non-profit organization in downtown South Bend that traditionally helps women and children who are in poverty or in trouble get back on their feet.

"Little girls who grow up in families that are struggling economically take on a huge responsibility," explained Saint Margaret's House Executive Director Kathy Schneider. "Those girls are always helping with the younger kids, they're helping their moms with whatever they can because these little girls work hard from a very young age."

Hossfeld sent personalized invitations to girls in the Saint Margaret's House database, inviting them to something she called "Girl's Club." For some, it was a tough sell.

"I thought it was going to be boring because I thought I had other things to do this summer than just come here," said 14-year-old Girl's Club member Crystal Agnew.

"The first thing I noticed was that some of them were just very defensive and I think that can be a problem, that for some women who are living in poverty, your first concern can be to keep a roof over your head and food on your table so that you're on the defense all the time," Hossfeld said.

Once she broke down those walls, Girl's Club took off. It expanded from two days each week to four weekdays during the summer. 

Using the $1,000 grant the girls planted and took care of a Unity Garden, took field trips - including a fancy lunch at Tippecanoe Place, took part in a photo shoot to build self esteem and they talked a lot. 

"A lot of them just kind of wanted someone to talk to," Hossfeld added. "I would say this age range is very delicate just because you are transitioning. Some girls go through puberty younger than others, some girls are going from one school to a new school and making friends. Just kind of the every day girl problems."

"It's hard to be a girl because you have to make sure you look nice every day, keep your hair done, have your personal hygiene," Agnew said. 

But Girl's Club helped her and others learn how to deal with that pressure and gain confidence.

"It's just really important for an adult to say, 'What do you hope to be? What are your dreams? What are you good at?'" Schneider said. "So few people ask little kids in general, and girls those questions." 

The hope is things like baking cookies and having "girl time" can keep the girls from becoming negative statistics and instead put them on the path to success. 

Alarming new information about girls in Indiana from a brand new study by Saint Mary's College shows 14 percent of high school girls in Indiana reported being raped, making Indiana the second highest rape rate in the country. Also in that report, 1 in 3 girls in the 8th through 10th grades said they felt sad or hopeless. Almost half of Indiana girls considered, planned or attempted suicide and 22 percent of girls 6 to 10 years old live in poverty.

Plans are already in place to continue Girl's Club next summer and continue helping at-risk girls in our community. The biggest worry, Schneider said, is if there will be enough money to help pay for some of the club's projects and keep it going.