by Zarina Yunis, Girls Inc. Member, 9th grade

My involvement with Girls Inc. OC started this Spring at the 5th Annual Girls Conference Orange County held at UC Irvine. Together with UC Irvine’s CARE office, Girls Inc. OC hosted a day-long conference full of workshops, speakers, and activities encouraging girls to become today and tomorrow’s leaders. Girls had access to skill building activities that focused on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math), college and career readiness, leadership, life skills, healthy relationships, wise social media use, and building self-confidence. Concurrent workshops were held for parents, guardians, and mentors on positive parenting strategies and helping daughters navigate their roads to success. My day began behind a podium with the Seal of the President of the United States. A Girls Inc. representative was interviewing me and asking me what I would do if I were President of the United States. I was empowered by this experience. If you dream it, you can achieve it. The feeling I had when I stood at that podium was that I could do anything that I set my mind to. This example of how Girls Inc. inspires girls to be leaders speaks for itself. The morning agenda involved keynote addresses by two women, Ruthe Farmer and Manar Waheed, who had previously worked in the White House for President Obama. They described their education and the paths taken to achieve the success they had achieved in their careers. In their speeches, they mentioned that they couldn’t have become as successful as they were without the support of many women they knew. Ruthe Farmer encouraged the audience to go after our goals and not shy away from STEM careers. STEM jobs are the jobs of the present and future, and our country is not producing enough candidates for these jobs. I was inspired by Manar Waheed’s story, who as a lawyer has worked for vulnerable populations including victims of hate, domestic violence, and those suffering from anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments. When she started out in her career, she did not know it would one day lead her to working in the White House. From their advice, I learned that dreaming big and having positive relationships with mentors will help me achieve what I want in life.

After the keynote addresses, all the participants were led to their workshop locations. One of the workshops I attended was called “I am my Social Media Footprint.” I learned that any content posted on social media, leaves a “digital footprint” meaning that nothing posted ever disappears completely, and it can be discovered later on by others who seek to find it. Negative information could have an adverse impact on job seeking and college applications. Girls were encouraged to post only positive things about themselves and their friends so they weren’t hurting anyone nor creating a bad reputation for themselves. The leaders of this workshop had us create a social media username that portrayed the positive personality traits that we possessed. This exercise motivated the girls in the workshop to embrace what they like about themselves, creating an enhanced image of themselves on social media. The other workshop I attended was called “Light Up Your Future!” The leader of this workshop explained that every individual has great ideas that can light up the world, but if one can’t be assertive, it is difficult to communicate these ideas. Through various examples and scenarios, girls learned how to develop an assertive personality to ensure that they weren’t taken advantage of in the future. I gained a lot from both workshops and they added to my knowledge about the world we live in. Girls need to learn how to navigate tough situations, hold their heads high, and create a positive image of themselves.

There are many organizations and individuals who support the mission of Girls Inc. OC and work alongside them. At this year’s conference, the organizers honored Tilly Levine whose philanthropic efforts through Tilly’s Life Center have helped disadvantaged youth and teens. TLC is a nonprofit foundation “aimed at empowering all teens with a positive mindset and enabling them to effectively cope with crisis, adversity and tough decisions.” When she accepted the award, Tilly shared her incredible journey. She had immigrated from Israel in her early 20s, and it was difficult for her to get back on her feet here in America. She persevered and today she is a successful businesswoman. She co-founded Tilly’s, which is a leading nationwide apparel store. She always wanted to help those who were struggling, and that led to her founding Tilly’s Life Center. Tilly is an amazing role model and has inspired me to have hope and courage, even in the darkest of situations.

I not only enjoyed meeting inspiring role models, but also girls my own age. Because this event is a conference for girls, I was able to meet many girls who shared similar interests as I did. In one of the workshops, I met a girl and we immediately started talking to each other and went on to spend the rest of the day together. I figured that we would probably only talk to each other for just that day and then never see each other again, but because we both are still involved in Girl’s Inc. events, we still meet up regularly. We have also exchanged numbers and stay in touch frequently. At Girls Inc., girls are placed in an environment where they work together with their peers to complete tasks and develop bonds. The Girls’ Conference has helped me to improve my social skills and has provided me with the opportunity to make new friends and communicate effectively with others. Girls Inc. programs are designed to help girls improve self-esteem, boost grades, prepare for higher education, become active in their communities, explore Science, Math, and Technology and become economically independent
women. In the one-day Girls’ Conference, I was inspired to do just that!

Zarina will be a 9th grader in the fall, she continues to be involved in Girls Inc. programs and will continue to blog about her experiences.