The past eight months with the girls at Pope John Paul II have been phenomenal. I feel as though I’ve had a front row seat to each girl’s individual transformation throughout the year. I vividly remember the girls’ trepidation during our first days in October. The girls were reserved and polite, in an attempt to both impress us with good behavior and to assess us. As the weeks passed, we quickly gained the girls’ trust and they became openly eager to participate and engage with us and the other girls.
We built a genuine community of support and caring, to which the girls were openly enthusiastic to belong.Personally, I came to look forward to every Wednesday afternoon spent with my girls. I can honestly say that nothing could brighten my day like seeing the beaming faces of my girls. Walking downstairs to collect the girls from afterschool, I would be attacked by a tangle of arms reaching for the first hug.
Shyann began with the program as a soft-spoken, timid fifth grader, who would shy away from any chance to participate. Over the past few months, I’ve watched her confidence bloom along with her self-esteem. As she came to feel more comfortable within our community, Shyann became the first girl to shoot her hand in the air every time a question was posed or a volunteer was requested. Each week, she would run towards us as we entered the school, seeking hugs all around. She would be the last to leave the classroom, hoping to help us clean up or do whatever needed to be done. Over the year, Shyann grew into an outgoing, self-assured girl and an incredible role model to the other girls.
Similar to Shyann, each girl showed an enormous amount of growth over the year, each in her own way. To see how the girls grew to trust us, as their mentors, is truly rewarding. The girls achieved a real sense of belonging within our cohort, allowing them to connect to a support system of fellow girls. I will miss these greatly in the coming months, but I know that they are ready to handle what daily life throws at them with a smile and unwavering confidence.