Hudson Valley Parent

HVP January 2020

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Page 24 of 35 n Hudson Valley Parent 25 couldn't wait to raise her hand and share what was in her journal. By the end of the day, the girls were jumping up to participate." MORE: PARENTS TALK ABOUT THEIR DAUGHTER'S DREAMS, Social worker and parent of three youngsters, Laura Bagnarol, is the founder of Be Big Be Brave, an empowerment initiative based in Hopewell Junction that provides rec- reational and educational programs and workshops, mainly for girls. "Without confidence, girls will have a hard time reaching any goal and so if we, as parents and educa- tors want to support them in achiev- ing their goals, we must offer them ways to build their confidence," said Bagnarol. While she finds the societal problems that challenge girls to be nationally universal, including a lack of confidence, sexual assault/harass- ment, substance abuse, cyberbul- lying and mental health issues like depression and anxiety, Bagnarol believes youth sports and empow- erment programs can help counter their negative effects. "It's looking at how important it is to remember not what our bodies look like but what our bodies can do and putting the focus back on that; reminding girls of their strengths and to use those strengths for good," she said. Part of that includes being brave enough to support each other, whether it's speaking up when wit- nessing bullying or otherwise being empathetic toward others. Another component is the negative side of social media, where harsh comments can have adversely affect teens' self-esteem. Aside from personal ex- changes are outside messages, which Bagnarol talks with girls about, such as song lyrics they hear. "I don't' think the answer is just to take their phones away," she said of social media's power. "We need to continue to have conversations and use teaching moments; we, our- selves, have to be present and have conversations with them." Locally, she said, the Hudson Valley is lucky to have the support of community-based youth pro- grams, such as those offered through schools, such as the Wappingers School District, including her daugh- ter's school, Fishkill Elementary. "It's all about shattering gender stereotypes," said Bagnarol. "It mat- ters, what you're doing in life." Anusha Mehar of the Newburgh Free Library is the outreach coordi- nator for its Newburgh Girls Code Club (NGCC) that educates groups of 15 girls aged 10-to-18 on coding and career opportunities through STEM learning. Funded by the Row- ley Family Foundation, the NGCC follows the national Girls Who Code organization, giving the NGCC access to online coding tutorials and other resources, along with inspiring role models. The NGCC's 12-week, seasonal program is led by peer and career mentors, including people with posi- tions in the field. "In addition to directly teaching our girls how to code and empow- ering them with hard skill in differ code languages...we allow them the opportunity to pursue what (area of expertise) speaks most powerfully to them," said Mehar. Currently, she said, although the technical job sector is one of the fast- est growing in the nation, only 30 percent of those jobs belong to wom- en. For women of color, the percent- age drops; more so for women in the sector's leadership positions. Among the projects in completed, beta stages by the NGCC's partici- pants are an app for the City of New- burgh, where the streets' pot-holes are geo-tagged for future repair, and an online-positivity bank with uplift- ing messages to help inspire teens going through challenges. "These are learned skills for wherever you go in this sector," said Mehar, including divergent facets in business. "Tech touches every sector nowadays," she said. "Banking, mindfulness, healing - there's almost no sector that's not interwoven with technology." What's more, because coding involves undergoing many failed tries before reaching successful ones, learning the technology teaches girls how to overcome frustrations by pushing through false starts and problem-solving. "There really is a tremendous amount of opportunity," said Mehar. "This program is empowering them and showing them the model of peo- ple who look like them in the sector." Karen Maserjian Shan is editor of Hudson Valley Parent Girls listen during a talk session at Pough- keepsie's Live Your Dreams Girls Conference. Empowerment Programs for Girls • Live Your Dreams Girls' Con- ference, index.php?page=girls_conf • Be Big, Be Brave, bebigbe- • Newburgh Girls Code Club, vices/teens/newburgh-girls-code- club/ Photo: Bonnie Auchinclos

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