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On-Site Staff / Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management

#GirlsAre Builders, Explorers and Adventurers


This month the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the Clinton Foundation are joining forces to inspire a new generation of strong active women.

Girls are fierce, but we know that by age 14, girls drop out of sports two times faster than boys and less than 50% of 12-15 year old girls get the recommended amount of physical activity.

To celebrate #GirlsAre, I reached out to nine leaders who are helping to flip this script. This group of nine are builders, explorers and adventurers, stretching from Hawaii to New York and working both locally and nationally. I hope their inspiring words fuel your inner fire to ensure all girls have the opportunity to become strong, fearless women.

*all photos provided by contributors

What role do you think youth serving organizations and businesses play in helping girls get the recommended amount of physical activity?

Lacy Stephens, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate, National Farm to School Network

(Photo courtesy Lacy Stephens)

From the farm to school perspective, we see opportunity for physical activity to be woven throughout the school day. Gardening, for instance, is a valuable opportunity to be physically active and offers wonderful educational benefits. Girls can build strength, confidence and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills and develop a lifelong appreciation for our environment and food systems. Farm to school initiatives encourage physical activity, good nutrition and community engagement through activities like walking to nearby farmers markets, touring local agriculture and using blender bikes to get legs moving to make healthy (and tasty) smoothies!

Dorri McWhorter, Chief Executive Officer, YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago

(Photo courtesy Dorri McWhorter)

Community organizations like YWCAs are essential in helping girls become and stay physically active by empowering them with the confidence to try new activities and encouraging healthy competition. Together with businesses and schools, community organizations play a critical role in educating girls on the short-term and long-term benefits of fitness and what it means to be “healthy” for their own body type.

Georgia Hall, Senior Research Scientist, National Institute on Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women

Community organizations, businesses and schools can all collectively make sure that there are adequate opportunities for girls to participate in “active” activities in the community by supporting and sponsoring community-level team sports, clinics and partnerships with middle and high school girls’ athletic teams. Messaging should encourage girls to be physically active by showing female athletes and girls engaged in physical activity and promoting the health benefits of active living.

How can we empower the next generation of girls to be builders, explorers and adventurers?

Lindsey Piant Perez, Senior Architect, DLR Group

As an architect, I have always been involved with sharing my passion with young students. I have spent time volunteering with the Girl Scouts introducing young girls to the built environment. As a mother, I have learned the best way to influence my children is by exposing them to my passions. The more time I spend sharing what I do as an architect or sharing my passion for physical activity, the more my daughters’ will learn themselves to explore and be curious about the environment around them.

Paula Adams, Executive Director, Hawaii Afterschool Alliance

We can empower girls by emphasizing how fun it is to be active, to explore and to be outdoors. That means giving them the chance to go outside, to go for a hike, walk or just explore. It is important to share information, but it is more powerful for girls experience what it feels like to be adventurous.

Serda Ozbenian, Conservation Program Manager, National Recreation and Park Association

(Photo courtesy Serda Ozbenian)

By increasing their exposure! Kids in urban communities generally have less exposure to the outdoors so it is important that we provide them with female role-models to open them up to the possibility of becoming builders, explorers and adventurers. If girls don’t know it’s even an option, they can’t strive to become any of these! Highlighting international, national and especially local women who are active outdoors can go a long way to shaping a girl’s impression of her place in the outdoors. Through NRPA’s nature discovery program called Wildlife Explorers, girls have the opportunity to explore the outdoors, ask questions about nature and see their role in the outdoors. Research has shown that this early exposure and encouragement can have profound impacts on young children. Providing girls with outdoor skills can help increase their confidence outdoors and can even empower them to share this knowledge with others, helping them become leaders and role models themselves.

What other advice do you have as we work to build awareness for engaging girls in sports?

Adrienne Moore, Director of Capacity Building, Up2Us Sports

(Photo courtesy Adrienne Moore)

We need to support efforts to increase the number of women coaches in youth sports. A positive relationship with an adult can be the single most important factor in a young person growing up healthy and happy. At Up2Us Sports, we are working to train and support more women as youth sports coaches; we know how powerful that relationship can be for girls and their lifelong health.

Lori Rose Benson, Executive Director and CEO, Hip Hop Public Health

(Photo courtesy Lori Rose Benson)

The earlier we can engage girls in trying many different types of activities the better the chance that they will consider being physically active as the norm, not the exception. When I was about 7 years old, I was interested in karate, but my dad was afraid I would get hurt and thought I wouldn’t be strong enough to participate. He said I should I wait until I was older; by the way, I never learned karate! Collectively, we must decide to overturn the stereotypes of what society thinks girls should and should not be able to do.

Nell Tessman, Corporate and Foundation Grants Writer, Alliance for a Healthier Generation

As a former afterschool teacher, a lifelong basketball player and former middle school basketball coach, one of the most important things I have learned about engaging and keeping girls involved in sports is the importance of meeting girls where they are. Girls engage and stay engaged in sports and other physical activities for a variety of reasons. Sometimes being part of a team and sharing an experience with friends is just as important as the competition or the physical challenge. Coaches, teachers and families play an important role in listening to what girls value and in creating positive environments that keep girls motivated and build their appreciation for being active.

Thank you to Adrienne, Dorri, Georgia, Lacy, Lindsey, Lori, Nell, Paula and Serda for sharing your advice and inspiration.

What tips would you add to this list?

Tweet them to me using @hatchdw and #GirlsAre.

This month take time to reflect on what communities designed and built by girls would look like. Imagine a world led by empowered women who crave solutions to our most complex challenges. If we want to increase the physical activity of girls, we must engage them in creating safe welcoming spaces with adequate leadership opportunities.

To join the #GirlsAre movement, visit To read the extended version of these interviews, visit the Healthier Generation afterschool blog,

As I wrote this article, the tragedy in Manchester occurred on May 22, 2017. I find it essential to acknowledge the impact of such an experience on the thousands of girls who attended the concert and the millions who could see themselves in the victims. It is true that girls are strong and brave, but in challenging moments like this, we must commit to building even more bridges that ensure all children have an opportunity to thrive.

For breakfast, I had a coffee and leftover rice from last night’s takeout (it has been a long week.)

Author: @danielh

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