2012-02-16 / Community

Empowering girls to live healthy, productive lives

By Sylvie Belmond


STRENGTH IN NUMBERS— Mentors of Girls in Power gather at Marmalade Cafe in Calabasas last week to discuss upcoming workshops in a 14-week program designed to help young girls realize their potential. 
SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers STRENGTH IN NUMBERS— Mentors of Girls in Power gather at Marmalade Cafe in Calabasas last week to discuss upcoming workshops in a 14-week program designed to help young girls realize their potential. SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers Though she was raised in a middle-class home and provided with all the necessities, Melinda Crown says she felt isolated and insecure because she grew up in an environment devoid of love, guidance and support.

The insecurities led to low self-esteem, anorexia and substance abuse. But Crown effectively concealed her problems.

“As a dancer, I learned very young how to build a facade and pretend I was okay,” said the Agoura resident, who eventually overcame her fears and persevered due to faith in God and the support of a mentor.

Her experiences inspired her to help and advocate for disadvantaged and at-risk youths.

In 2010, Crown developed a Girls in Power program to provide a support system for teen and preteen girls.

“My past is driving my motivation. I’m a survivor, and now I finally have value and stock in myself. I don’t want a teen to wait until she’s 40 to find that out,” said Crown, the single mother of three girls and a cancer survivor.

Starting Feb. 27 the foundation will host a series of workshops at the Conejo Valley YMCA to help 10 girls between the ages of 8 and 16 realize their potential.

Each girl will be paired with a mentor who will provide guidance and support throughout a 14-week curriculum consisting of 56 workshops. Participants will learn new skills and disciplines.

“The workshops will build on each other,” said Crown.

The skill-building workshops will be led by volunteers who want to inspire teens by sharing their passion, creativity or profession, Crown said.

“A lot of our teens are silently suffering. This program is all about habit building because I know for a fact that if you have the opportunity to learn something new it’s possible to change and cope better,” Crown said.

The program will include arts, cooking, self-defense and fellowship. Twenty-minute weekly phone check-ins between mentors and students will ensure the girls meet their goals.

Registration for the free program began Feb. 9. Girls in Power will select candidates based on social, emotional and physical needs, said Crown, who will maintain a waiting list for future programs, which may be offered for a fee.

“As we grow over the next few weeks we will be looking at other locations to host the workshops,” she said.

Twenty volunteers gathered at Marmalade Cafe last week to prepare for the workshops.

Michelle Greathouse, store manager of lululemon athletica in Calabasas, will lead the goal-setting workshop using techniques she learned at work.

Lululemon employees are encouraged to set short- and longterm objectives to enhance their careers and personal life.

“It allows us to be invested in each other’s lives and creates a strong support team within the workplace,” Greathouse said.

“By writing your goals down, you become accountable.”

Calabasas resident Daryl Wizelman, a motivational leader and business consultant who owns a mortgage company, offered words of advice and encouragement to the mentors.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” he said, suggesting that volunteers give their best without expecting anything in return.

Wizelman wrote a book called “Heart Leader,” which includes accounts of his business achievements and failures followed by leadership lessons.

“The idea behind being a heart leader is putting people before profits,” he said.

Meghan Lopez, healthy living and aquatics director at the Conejo Valley YMCA, said she looks forward to hosting the Girls in Power program at the Y.

“We’re just excited to partner with Girls in Power because it fits with our mission. The Y is about youth development, healthy living and social responsibility,” Lopez said.

Crown, a former competitive dancer who owns a public relations company in Agoura Hills, said the Conejo Valley Y is helping launch the program by making its facilities available to the program.

She seeks more volunteers and sponsors to partner with Girls in Power.

For registration and sponsorship information, visit www.girlsinpower.org or contact Lopez at (805) 523-7613 or mlopez@conejovalleyymca.org.

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