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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Reflections on Working With Girl Scouts Behind Bars

Got Choices' Shalon Maral at a juvenile justice center
Today's GSNorCal blog is written by Shalon Maral, outreach program manager for our Got Choices program here in Northern California. Got Choices takes Girl Scouting to at-risk, high-risk, and adjudicated girls in schools, shelters, and even juvenile justice facilities, where we focus on healthy decision making and relationship choices, self esteem, and much more. Shalon's words are also shared on the blog for the Independent Television Service (ITVS), which just released a new video featuring Shalon and her girls that focuses on how Got Choices is changing lives behind bars. The release of the video coincides with the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women in New York City this week, where two girls from Got Choices' at-risk schools program presented a session called Girls Ending the Cycle: Combating Inter-Generational Violence Through Leadership and Empowerment." You can watch the ITVS video by clicking here. Thank you, Shalon, ITVS, and to all our partners and supporters who make Got Choices possible!

A Got Choices Girl Scout in the system
I started out with Girl Scouts 22 years ago as a volunteer and I now have the most incredible job! For the last 10 years, working for Girl Scouts as an Outreach Program Manager has opened my heart. Our program, Got Choices, is a nationwide Girl Scouts in Detention Center Program. It is very strong in Northern California and continues to grow. We serve at least 660 girls a year in our council, in 18 sites in five counties.

My girls are in juvenile detention centers, on probation, and in group homes. Girl Scouts is working with girls from all walks of life. They are involved in gangs, drugs, and prostitution, to name a few of their choice activities before Got Choices … and they are Girl Scouts.  We have weekly meetings where I am potentially the only person that the girls see from the “outside” for days on end. These girls are MY girls. And I know that the work we do with them matters.

I can personally relate to these girls on so many levels, because of my experiences as a youth. I have “been there, done that.”  I am blessed to have the opportunity to share with them who I was and who I have become. The girls learn about my past and it builds trust between us. We connect.

At a self-esteem workshop
I believe these girls can make changes in their lives and in the community, if they are given the right tools. Having positive adult female mentors, such as me, helps the girls learn how to relate to others in a more positive way.  I have shown them that there is another way to live. They can make different choices. Believing they can have a positive future makes the biggest difference of all.

Partnering with ITVS has given the girls a look at the world through others’ eyes. They can see other girls who walk the same walk, talk the same talk. The girls relate to documentaries and can view them without being judged.  My girls can identify pieces of themselves within the girls in the films. The curriculum motivates them to be better people and to not go down the same path. They are learning to make a new path for themselves.  It gives them hope.

ITVS curriculum is current; it tells stories of people the girls can relate to, helping them develop a sense of empathy. The documentaries and activities are engaging so they are motivated to participate and learn at the same time. I love this curriculum and I love sharing it with others. The response has been overwhelmingly positive from the girls!

I believe together we can make a difference in the lives of girls from all backgrounds, including those in detention centers. Using resources like this one helps us one step closer to that goal.

The Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds, presents, and promotes award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television and cable, innovative new media projects on the Web, and the Emmy Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens Monday nights at 10 p.m. on PBS. Community Classroom is an innovative and free resource for educators, offering short-form film modules adapted from ITVS's award-winning documentaries and standards-based lesson plans for high school and community colleges, NGOs, and youth organizations. See more at http://www.itvs.org/educators/ 

In 2012, ITVS’s Community Classroom partnered with the Girls Scouts of the USA to create the curriculum “This is a Story You Have to Tell: Women, Girls, and the Criminal Justice System.” The collection features modules from three ITVS films: Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story, Troop 1500, and Girls on the Wall. The Girl Scouts have since adapted the resource to be used as curriculum for their national programs Beyond Bars and Girl Scouting in Detention Centers, reaching nearly 17,000 women and girls around the country.

1 comment:

  1. What a great way to bring something positive into the lives of these troubled girls.