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Newtown Florist Club sets the bar high for area girls

POSTED: July 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Tania Sanchez tells audience members about actress and writer Sonia Manzano on Friday evening at the Fair Street Neighborhood Center.

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Throw together nine inner-city girls, ages 11 to 14, for six-plus weeks of studying current events, hearing guest speakers, visiting museums, swimming and bowling and you’ve got a formula for fun and occasional friction.

Call it the Newtown Sisterhood.

"They had their differences but they worked it out," said Selinea Stringer, who coached the girls in dance steps for their season-ending graduation program Friday at the Fair Street Neighborhood Center. "It was special. It brought them closer as girls, and they’ll be closer as women."

This exclusive Gainesville girls’ club, known as the Girls’ Summer Leadership Enrichment Program, finalized its eighth year of summer day camps with a ceremony that included speeches, poems, dances and a few giggles, as proud parents and siblings looked on.

Organized by the Newtown Florist Club, an environmental activism group, the program doesn’t shy away from politics or health issues that affect young, at-risk women, said instructor Myrna Thomas.

Parent Tonya Harris said it was a chance for young girls to hear from female role models and see the opportunities in front of them.

"People came in and said, ‘I achieved it, and you can, too,’" Harris said. "These girls could have been out in the street doing anything you can think of, but they were doing something positive."

Khajida Hollis, 13, said she enjoyed the field trips in the much-maligned "short bus" to places like the Carter Center, High Museum and Brenau University. The bowling was fun, too, she said.

Hollis said a visit from Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras taught her to "keep my head up and use the talents God has given me."

For children who might consider attending the program next year, Hollis has this advice, "I would encourage them to be a leader and not a follower, and be what they want to be, not what everyone else expects them to be."

Newton Florist Club Executive Director Faye Bush told the girls that portions of Friday’s program "made me shed tears. I just hope that you all live out your dreams and continue to do the right thing."


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