For young girls today, it isn’t always easy. Dreaming about the future can seem limited by messages from the media and society that tell girls who and how they should be. Against all of these pressures, it can be difficult for a girl to embrace her curiosity or independence. Many girls struggle to believe in themselves and to know that they matter.
Fortunately, girls in Toronto’s Thorncliffe community are learning to dream beyond these limits.Thanks to Something for the Girlz, a girls group with a peer mentoring component offered by the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, girls are learning to believe in themselves and look forward to the future.
According to the RBC Kids Optimism Survey, more than half (51 per cent) of Canadian kids say the opinions of mentors play an important role in how they feel, think and behave.
Something for the Girlz engages two groups of girls in the community: girls aged 9-13 and, as the mentors, young women in high school. Both groups focus on building confidence, and developing a girl's belief in herself and in her community. The program also introduces girls to Canadian culture and activities—which is particularly important because many are from newcomer and culturally diverse families. The mentorship program helps bridge the gap between the younger girls’ Canadian identity and experience and their identity/experience at home with often more traditional views. They do this by matching small groups of younger girls with the high school students who are trained to be their mentors.
“In keeping with the program’s goal of fostering leadership, empowerment andsocial and community engagement, the younger girls are mentored by the high school aged girls,” says Nawal Al-Busaidi, Manager of Child and Family Services at Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office. “This helps them build a relationship with someone to ease their transition into high school. Think of how much easier your first day of high school would be if you knew you had a buddy to guide you through this difficult time in your life.”
As the girls move through the program, they’re trained to become mentors. The teens are mentored by outside professionals, guest speakers and trained staff. They can even become an associate mentor if they’re not comfortable becoming a mentor right away. The key is to build a sense of responsibility and accountability.
Ultimately, many of the young women who leave the program continue their education at college or university, and also continue advocating for the program.
“I’ve seen so many girls with no hopes, dreams or expectations of a prosperous future,” says Nawal. “But after participating in the program, many become successful, independent women who continue to give back to the community as guest speakers and advocates. Our participants are a beautiful example of what you can do when you put your mind to it.”
Something for the Girlz is funded by the Canadian Women’s Foundation Girls’ Fund. The Fund invests in community programs that teach girls how to be resilient, by exploring science and technology, playing sports, learning critical thinking skills and working with a mentor. Through support from multiple donors and partners the Girls’ Fund supports 28 programs working in 56 communities across the country. RBC Foundation is one of the founding partners of the Canadian Women’s Foundations’ Girls’ Fund, and recently committed $500,000 to help fund a number of programs across the country.
RBC supports a broad range of community initiatives through donations, sponsorships and employee volunteer activities. In 2014, they contributed more than $111 million to causes worldwide, including donations and community investments of more than $76 million and $35 million in sponsorships.