“The Girls Action Network trip has taught me that even if I’m different from everyone else in the room, I have to remember that there are other people like me that cannot make it inside the room that I have to represent and support.” – Samia Abdalla, Girls Inc. at the YWCA of Minneapolis
The Girls Inc. Girls Action Network (GAN) is a year-long program that brings together Girls Inc. girls from across the network to build advocacy and leadership skills and help guide the expansion of our advocacy work. The GAN has monthly video meetings, and the first two cohorts of the program culminated in a four-day trip to Washington, D.C., where the girls met each other in person for the first time, and got practical resources, training, and hands-on experience to help them feel confident leading change efforts in their local communities. This year’s ten girls represented seven U.S. states and nine Girls Inc. affiliates.
During the group’s visit to Washington D.C., they had multiple opportunities to hone their advocacy skills and develop as leaders. Tieler Giles, Associate Director of Marketing and Communications, led the group in a dynamic leadership training that prepared them for the week ahead. Jennifer Mandelblatt of the D.C.-based nonprofit Platform prepared the group for their meetings with elected officials, with insightful tips and tricks to break through the anxiety often associated with meeting elected officials.
In advance of the trip, the girls identified issues they were particularly passionate about – the DREAM Act, gun violence, and sexual harassment – and developed talking points to use for their advocacy with congressional staff members. By conducting Capitol Hill meetings, the girls learned that staffers are people too, and that meeting with elected officials is critical in order for policy decisions to reflect the will of the people.
The girls also had the chance to meet a number of strong, smart, and bold women. Former Girls Inc. girl Melissa Guerrero – currently a staffer for U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen – talked with the group about how she got involved in politics and what it is like working on Capitol Hill as a young Latinx woman. Highlights also included meeting with two female senators. Senator Elizabeth Warren held a meet and greet with the group, offering words of encouragement, and Senator Dianne Feinstein shared her personal experiences with loss and left the girls with inspirational advice about not giving up. At an evening event, the girls met Dr. Carla Hayden, the first female and first African American Librarian of Congress. The girls were able to ask her questions during a Q&A session and interact with her one-on-one. Meeting these powerful women left GAN member Alitza Gonzalez feeling “…empowered and like [she] could make a change.” She said that “meeting with Dr. Hayden in particular empowered me,” as “it showed me that I could do that because a women of color is in an important position.”
The GAN trip wasn’t all work! The girls also went on multiple tours, including a tour of the the National Portrait Gallery, the National Monuments, the U.S. Capitol Building, and the White House. The girls got to know one another by participating in a gift exchange, gave each other henna tattoos, and had a dance party.
Over the course of the trip, the girls grew closer to one another despite each of them being from a different place. The group didn’t just develop advocacy skills, they also realized the strength of their connection and their power to lead change when they get back home. As GAN member Jada Powell from Girls Inc. of Memphis said on her final day in D.C., “I want to take you all back with me. I want to share all your ideas with my hometown.”