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Leadership program teaches girls self-reliance
Organization accepts any girl to program
Teresa Young, teacher for the Newtown Florist Club’s girls leadership program, speaks Friday to the students about keeping the Newtown garden area clean.

A group of Gainesville girls spent a July morning doing a little something out of the ordinary.

Instead of rolling out of bed to watch some TV during summer break, they were collecting air samples and working in their community garden.

In a neighborhood surrounded by industry, the girls who are part of the Newtown Florist Club's leadership program learn about the importance of the environment and their actions in the community.

"What we're trying to do is make this community a more healthy community," Faye Bush, Newtown Florist Club director, said.

Lead teacher for the summer camp, Teresa Young, explained how to cultivate a garden to 35 middle and high school girls in the Ruby Wilkins Garden, including the entire process from tilling the ground to harvesting the vegetables.

"With the economy the way it is, girls need to know how to survive, so we're teaching them they can actually survive on their own by planting and keeping a garden," Young said.

The six-week long summer camp covers a wide variety of lessons, including dance, personal hygiene, swimming, sexual health, social skills and college preparation. Through these lessons the girls gain self-confidence and respect for one another, Young said.

"We teach them how to inspire, how to be a life speaker," she said. "We teach a lot about respect. The way you want to be treated is the way you treat people — that is so crucial. We exemplify what we want from each other."

Young said the more subtle lessons are often taught by the girls themselves. By using their individual talents they "bring out the best in each other."

Dariyah Awner and Maya Stephens, both 12, choreographed a dance for 18 girls while Kiki Hendrix and Celine Ashford, both 14, practiced a step routine they will perform at a graduation ceremony at the end of the program. Through their weekly dance sessions the girls learn about African heritage and how to work as a team.

"We teach girls in the group to find their skills, and then we help them to manifest that gift," Young said.

Young said Shanicka Stephens, 14, is outgoing and well-spoken. Through her skill as a speaker she is able to ease anxiety and help some of her peers with public speaking. Shanicka said she loves the camp because it allows her to help her community.

"I need a good club and I think this is it. I think I need to be in it every year so I can be better," Shanicka said. "I think this will make me become a successful young lady."

Bush said after the summer graduation ceremony later this month, the girls will be able to continue their involvement with the club through Saturday meetings. Any girl can join the program. Through donations, the organization accepts all applicants regardless of their financial situation.

"People never realize that there is power in words and there is positive influence," Young said. "By encouraging that girl, she will do things she never thought she could do."