Mid-Shore Girls Learn About Self-Esteem

~ Originally printed in June 2016.
The Women and Girls Fund of the Mid-Shore recently awarded 13 grant recipients $34,231. Among the recipients were the Tilghman Area Youth Association ($1500) and the Ladies of Nia ($2500), two organizations on the Mid Shore helping young women develop self-esteem. These organizations also received the Women and Girls Fund’s Daisy Fund grants, which are opened by individuals and part of a special endowment fund.

Tilghman Area Youth Association

The Tilghman Area Youth Association (TAYA) provides community programs that unite Tilghman area youth to self, family and community. Included in their programs are Tilghman After School Kids (TASK) program, which includes dinner to all who attend; tutoring; family events, such as a Family Fishing Tournament, an annual Haunted House and Kayak Rally; Tilghman Elementary monthly cultural assemblies; summer camps; and production of a free 76-page color yearbook for all students and staff. The Tilghman Area Youth Association also gives the annual Diane L. Simison Memorial Scholarship for a local graduating senior, including support of past recipients to assist them in remaining in college.

A special TASK program, “Just for Girls,” is offered to 5th grade girls and is designed to build confidence and self-esteem by allowing them to express their opinions in a safe environment. The class also teaches girls about life decisions and career paths. Ginny Cornwell, the founder of the Tilghman Area Youth Association and its programs TASK and the Just for Girls Program, saw a need for an afterschool program in Tilghman 13 years ago when she started the program.

According to Ginny, the isolation of Tilghman Island and having both parents now working in many families has not allowed children from Tilghman to travel up the road as often to participate in after-school activities. She recalls, “Almost the whole school enrolled in the program when we opened, illustrating the interest and the need for such a program in our community. Initial funding for TAYA came from the Talbot County Health Department and Ginny worked closely with the Talbot County Public Schools (TCPS) to offer the program at Tilghman Elementary. Ginny adds, “In addition to having 100 percent support from TCPS, we have always been embraced by the local residents of Tilghman.”

Participating in a Tilghman Area Youth Association’s afterschool program, Just for Girls, are Bryleigh Harrison (front, left), Natalie Shores, 4th Grade Teacher Karen Glass, Dinah Larkey (back, left), Juliet Muckleroy and Elizabeth Landon.
Initially, the Just for Girls Program included girls in 5th and 6th grades at Tilghman Elementary before the 6th grade was moved to St. Michaels Middle School. While today the program includes only 5th graders, Ginny hopes with the new grant funds from the Women and Girls Fund that the program can be expanded to include 4th grade girls as well. Many of the 6th and 7th graders who were in the program now help to mentor the younger girls in the program.

She comments, “I focused on giving the girls life skills and helping them to think about their future. It is all based on improving the girls’ self-esteem. We have enjoyed taking them to see area colleges and they even learned about giving back when they raised funds for a family in Tilghman who had immediate needs.”

Kelly Starkey, age 23, has returned to TASK this spring to help coordinate the Just for Girls Program that she was a part of 13 years ago. She recalls, “I was bullied a lot in school. The Just for Girls Program really helped me with self-esteem issues.”

Ginny Cornwell was Kelly’s instructor the year the program began. Karen Glass, a 4th grade teacher at Tilghman Elementary, followed Ginny in coordinating the program. Kelly, who replaced Karen this spring comments, “It was a safe place and an extra person to confide in. Our mothers had to work and it was a safe place for us to be and to be enriched. I took away beauty tips, nutrition information, exercise ideas, and even help with hair styling. Over the years, that information helped to keep me on track to graduate from St. Michaels High School.”

Kelly, who is now married, is working two jobs and pursuing her degree in early childhood education at Chesapeake College. She is enjoying being the coordinator now for Just for Girls. She adds, “I try and imagine myself as that 10-year old girl again to remember what they are feeling. It is very fulfilling and rewarding having them run up to me at the end of the school day ready to participate in the program.”

Another Just for Girls Program participant, Katie Swann, is now in her third year at Chesapeake College. Katie who is also majoring in early childhood education, plans to teach in Talbot County after she completes her bachelor’s degree and eventually her master’s degree.

She comments, “I personally participated in the program from 5th to 6th grade and I still use the things I learned in my life today. The biggest thing I took away from the program is confidence.  I learned that I could stand up for myself and my beliefs and that it was okay for me to make different decisions than anyone else, because I had to do what was best for me. With my confidence I got through many struggles of my own and I also learned how to help other girls with their struggles in life, and not just the girls who were in the program.”

She adds, “The knowledge the girls obtain through the program can be passed on to others in the community and they can help others reach their goals and aspirations. The Just for Girls program isn’t just a club for girls to share their feelings, it is a place for them to ask questions about life, to learn the right way to deal with situations and to develop their own personalities and confidence that will guide them through life and into success.”

As Ginny now looks toward retirement on August 31 from TAYA, having served as president for two years and executive director for five years, she comments, “Seeing girls like Kelly and Katie grow up and become wonderful people and give back to the community is very rewarding to me.”

The cost for a student to participate in the TASK program is $60 a semester, but Ginny says that scholarships are available, funded from a United Fund of Talbot County grant. The organization is looking to provide additional scholarships for children in need. For further information or to donate to TAYA, contact Ginny Cornwell at taya501@verizon.net or visit tilghmantaya.com or call 443-786-0761.

Ladies of Nia
While Malica Dunnock and her friends were away on a girlfriend’s vacation, they decided they wanted to give back to the community where they had grown up. Four of the six girls had lived in Caroline County, so they decided to approach Lockerman Middle School in Denton about establishing a mentoring program for girls in middle and high school.

Malica recalls, “We were all talking about how blessed we were and wanted to pay that forward somehow. We discussed how wonderful it would have been for us to have had a mentor to guide us at that age.”

A trip to New York City is a highlight of the year in the Ladies of Nia mentoring program. Attending a recent trip are Donya Brown-Graham (front, left), Tamara Ellis, Landra Burton, Deja Hines, Shaye Jones (back, left), Kyjai Hubbard, Lexus Lewis, Dayvonna Bailey, Taylor Knight, Kashia Adams, Destiny Johnson, Amaria Smith, Ar’kemah Dashiell, Tranisha Blake, Malica Dunnock, Carolyn Carter-Harris and Gina Lewis.
The group approached Dale Brown, the principal at Lockerman Middle School and found he believed in their mission. The group would focus on African American middle school girls who were “flying under the radar” and not reaching their potential. The focus of the program would be on career development and making good choices.

The six professional women who started the mentoring program named themselves the Ladies of Nia, based on the name’s association with the word “purpose.” The program’s focus is on Tomorrow’s H.O.P.E., which stands for “Having Our Purposes Evolve.” Their professions include FBI agents, finance professionals, nurses and human resource professionals. Each of the six mentors is paired with two to three of the girls for the duration of their participation in the program. They attend the girls’ sporting events, go out to dinner with the girls regularly, stay in constant communication with the girls, and participate in monthly meetings and in group activities.

Malica comments, “Our mentors make sacrifices to come to the programs each month, some travelling as far as Harford County and Virginia to participate.”

According to Malica, the middle school guidance counselors select the girls to participate based on their good grades and respectable behavior. The program got off the ground in 2009 with eight eighth grade girls participating. Most of the girls stayed with the program until graduating from high school in 2013. Today, the group of girls in grades six through 12, has grown to 13 girls. Nine of the girls are from Caroline County and four of the girls are from Dorchester County.

Malica comments, “The girls in this first group talked about how they never thought they would go to college. Three out of the five girls went to college that completed the program.”

The Ladies of Nia meets on Saturdays between September and June from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  In July and August, the group takes trips and participates in a variety of activities, such as bowling, roller skating and college visits. Saturday programs over the past year have covered such topics as etiquette training, career options, date rape, suicide and social media. After each program, the girls have a hot meal, share in conversations with their mentors and are given journal assignments to share at the following week’s meeting.

Malica comments, “It has been rewarding to know we are having a positive impact on the lives of these girls. It is great to see them mature and grow academically, find their career paths and become productive citizens.”

She adds, “I imagine that most of these girls will come back one day and serve as mentors in the program, like we have.”

One of the highlights of the program has been the girls’ annual trip to New York City. According to Malica, this has given the girls the opportunity to leave the Eastern Shore and see the possibilities in the city for jobs and education, while also sightseeing and shopping.

Girls from the program, who are now enrolled in college, also stay in contact with the middle and high school girls, helping to encourage them to pursue their dreams.

Over the years, the Ladies of Nia has partnered with Echo Hill to provide summer camp opportunities for the girls, as well as Habitat for Humanity to learn about community service.

According to Malica, parents of the girls participating in the program have expressed appreciation for the program and the role it has played in providing trusted role models for the girls.

Each year, the Ladies of Nia offers a $1,000 scholarship to the graduating senior who has excelled the most. The scholarship is named after Malica’s own mother, Elsie S. Holmes.

In addition to the Women and Girls Fund, the Ladies of Nia has been supported by the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, the Caroline County Health Department and the Caroline County Women’s Club.

Malica concludes, “The Women and Girls Fund grant will help us to fund this year’s trip to New York City. We want to expose and influence as many girls as possible to attend college and get into a career path. Broadening their experiences is part of this exposure.”

For further information about the Ladies of Nia or to donate, contact Malica Dunnock at medunn1010@yahoo.com or visit ladiesofnia.org.

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