Category Archives: events

The Omega Institute: Offering Insights In Growing Up Female and Furthering Women’s Leadership

By Naomi Chick, Former Mentor and Julia Hunter, Editorial Intern

Naomi:
As the car door opened, and the workers at Omega Institute greeted me and took my luggage, I looked around and was surrounded by green. After living in Boston, I was amazed at how much nature was surrounding me, and how many friendly people there were, asking me how I was. After checking in my luggage, and checking in, I took a small trip around the campus, and was yet again in awe of how peaceful everyone seemed to be. A beautiful garden, sanctuary, library, and café were all around me, and I didn’t know where to go first!
The first night, after a welcome orientation, about 20 teens, including myself, met with Rachel Simmons, world-renowned author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. We were all here for her workshop, “Say What You Mean, Be Who You Are.” No shoes allowed. No shoes? So comfortable! Sitting on the floor in a circle, cross-legged, talking openly, and learning how to communicate was refreshing, and something I was certainly open to.
The next morning, the workshop continued and we were able to go deeper to learn more about conflict, techniques of communicating correctly, and really getting across what you MEAN to say, instead of hiding true meaning in words. As I looked around the circle of girls, I realized how many of them were really looking to communicate correctly, and that they were beginning to realize how to determine the bad and good people in their lives. It was eye opening how vulnerable these girls were, and how willing they were to tell their stories.
After two more workshops, a few relaxing showers, scoops of ice cream, and walks through the garden, the weekend was over. My trip back to Boston was completely filled with me thinking about how to properly communicate not only with personal relationships, but with professional ones as well. I looked forward to completing small goals I had made for myself during the workshop. All the small things I was nervous to do, such as asking my boss to identify my positive and negative work qualities, I now realized I was able to ask correctly. I can honestly say that I left Omega with a new sense of myself, and a new ability to fully communicate with everyone. I’m grateful to Omega for such a rich learning opportunity.

Juila:
I had never heard of the Omega Institute before I attended Rachel Simmons’ workshop, “Say What You Mean, Be Who You Are.” After doing some online research, I had the impression that Omega is a beautiful place frequented by those who do yoga regularly. It sounded interesting but not necessarily my ‘thing.’ Still, the workshop intrigued me, as did their new women’s leadership initiative, so I decided to go. And I’m so glad I did.
Although Omega did have a fair number of yoga practitioners, it was much more than I imagined. I met young women who are interested in the same things I am and who care about girls’ and women’s leadership. Rachel Simmons’ workshop was relaxed and captivating. As we did a variety of activities both introspective and interactive, I learned a lot about myself, as well as the other young women who participated. It was unique to be primarily in a workshop environment comprised almost entirely of young women my age who care about many of the same things I do, and then for other activities, to join with a larger community of men and women of different ages.
I was excited to learn about Omega’s new Women’s Leadership Center. From the vision statement, I’m excited to see what will come of the new initiative. The founders imagine a world where: “Women and girls are valued for their full human potential, live in safety, and are free to express themselves and contribute meaningfully in all spheres of life. Men and boys are free to express the full range of human qualities, including masculine and feminine qualities, and share equitably with women and girls in life’s responsibilities and joys at home, at work, and in the world. Our global society fosters nurturing and mutual relationships, healthy families and communities, and a peaceful, just, and sustainable world—for everybody.”
This vision for the future is one that many would say is impossible to achieve, but it is exactly what organizations like Teen Voices—and people like me—imagine and work for every day. Through its workshops and other initiatives such as the Global Change Scholars and the conference on Women and Power in September, the Omega Institute is both teaching and proving that our world doesn’t need to be one where girls and boys have to learn sexism and hate; instead, it can be one of opportunity and equality.
For more information about the Omega Institute, visit their website: http://www.eomega.org
To learn more about the Omega’s Women Leadership Center and its upcoming events, visit: http://eomega.org/omega-in-action/key-initiatives/omega-womens-leadership-center/

Michele Norris Takes Us Beyond “The Grace of Silence”

By Janette Santos, Editorial Intern

Sometimes you attend an event that opens your eyes and sticks in your mind and heart. For us, this event was the 2012 Simmons Leadership Conference. Surrounded by powerful and inspiring women like Billie Jean King, Meg Whitman, and Jane McGonigal, it’s no wonder why this event empowered us to embrace our womanhood and continue our drive for success.  Earlier this year we wrote about the speech that Whitman gave at the conference and we published our interview with McGonigal. We could think of no better way to wrap up this series than by featuring a conference speaker near and dear to the Teen Voices mission: award-winning journalist Michele Norris.

Norris has led an extensive career, becoming one of the most honored voices in modern journalism, Currently the host of NPR’s flagship afternoon broadcast, All Things Considered, she has dabbled in every manner of media, interviewed personalities from Oscar winners to American presidents, and worked as a writer on such newspapers as The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

Her work has earned her a plethora of awards including an Alfred I. Dupont-Columbia University Award for Excellence in Broadcasting, and the 1990 Livingston Award, as well as an Emmy and Peabody Award for her contribution to ABC News’ coverage of 9/11.

Norris recently released her first book, The Grace of Silence, a memoir that explores the concept of identity in America by asking the reader, “How well do you really know your parents?” While taking the reader through her own personal journey trying to answer this question for herself, she delves deeper into the racial legacy of American history during the Post-War period.

She told attendees at April’s conference that when writing this book, she initially wanted to research the role of race in America, until she realized that the topic of race hit closer to home than she’d initially thought. “The elders of my family seemed to have entered into a period of historic indigestion; the stories were just spilling out. ‘Pass the peas, and do you know what happened to me in 1940?’” It was only through this casual dinner talk that Norris learned that her own father had been shot in the leg by white police officers just after he was discharged from the military after World War II.

The story utterly flabbergasted her and made her recognize: “I needed to pay more attention to how the people in my family were talking about race, because I realized there was family history that was unknown to me. I realized that I didn’t know enough about the people that were closest to me. So, I changed course and started examining my own family history.”

It’s an amazing journey. Michele Norris takes her readers not only through this country’s long and sordid past of racial struggles, but also reveals interesting bits of history about her own family. In one tidbit she relates how her maternal grandmother was an “itinerant Aunt Jemima” who would tour the Midwest selling pancake mix to housewives.

Norris emphasized to the conference audience the absolute importance of really listening to your elders when they tell stories of your family’s history before it’s too late, because you never know what you’ll learn about the people close to you.

Suffice it to say, Michele Norris is an admirable woman whose career is inspirational for girls aspiring to journalism. A strong, vocal personality in modern media, her unyielding energy continues to carry her into new fields in the media.

Transitions and Dreams

By Jillian Martin, Editorial Intern

As summer approaches and the school year comes to an end, many of us hug our friends goodbye and we see them back at school in three months. However, for some, such as those with a graduation or a big move looming over their heads, these goodbye hugs may be permanent.

Whether you’re heading off to college in the fall, starting work at a new job, or moving to a new home, or simply hanging out for the summer, early June is a time of transition.  School ends, the weather changes, and you probably can’t help but feel a little bit scared as well as excited about the changes. Here at Teen Voices HQ, we like to use these times of transition and those feelings of anticipation to set goals. It doesn’t matter where you are in your journey through life, whether it is graduation time or right in the middle of your middle school years, hopes, dreams, and goals are important to articulate and achieve.

No dream is too big. Check out our article on Kathleen Hassan; the body prayer for dreaming and achieving that she shared at the Girl Up event at Mother Caroline Academy is really helpful. Simply close your eyes and think of your dream. Once you have that clear, you already have a big goal set. Now that you have your goal, write it down and post it up somewhere that you’ll see it every day. This visual aid will give you a daily reminder of something you’re working toward.

You can also take part in The Legacy Project’s “Share the Dream” video, which was inspired by a Texas school district. Students, teachers, and administrators all read from Dream: A Tale of Wonder, Wisdom and Wishes; now it’s your turn. Get a group together and read Dream. At the end, share your own dreams on camera and upload the video onto YouTube. Now the whole world can be inspired by your dream!  And now you’ll feel compelled to work toward it!

Having the dream is the easy part; the hard part is getting there. Break down the big picture: what are the baby steps you need to take to achieve your goal? Why are they important? How will they help you do what you want to do? Make a calendar and set dates for each of your mini goals. When you reach them, celebrate! You deserve it.

But when the going is slow or rough, you may need some inspiration. Here are some creative tips for setting goals and staying on track:

  1. Make a collage or “dream chest.” If your goal is to get into your top college choice, print out photos of the campus or put items into a chest that inspire you. If your goal is to become an actress, print out photos of your favorite stars as a reminder of the success you want to achieve.
  2. Make a “to-do” list. By making lists of tiny goals to achieve each day, you’ll learn to be super focused and it feels oh-so-good when you get to check them off! This process also instills the good habit of writing down everything you need to accomplish.
  3. Find a buddy. One of your friends is sure to have a dream of her/his own; maybe she/he shares your dream! Work together to encourage and inspire each other.

There are plenty of other ways to share your dreams, as well. Read our blog on Frank Warren and the PostSecret project.  And don’t forget to head on over to the Artist of the Month Contest page. This month’s theme is “Dreams”—so get out your pencils and paper, brush and canvas, or camera and tripod, and show us your interpretation of what it means to dream. You could win some great prizes, and I’ll be that’s on your dream list!

Voice Your Verse ‘n’ Open Your Purse!

By Janette Santos, Editorial Intern

Are you a poet? Well you’re in luck because April is National Poetry Month! To coincide with this annual celebration of the written art form, She’s the First launched their “Voice Your Verse” campaign. She’s the First is a nonprofit focused on getting American girls involved in raising funds to sponsor the education of girls in developing countries. The campaign aims to raise $10,000 by publishing an anthology of poetry called If the World Were my Classroom.  She’s the First promises that “100% of proceeds from the anthology, published during National Poetry Month in April, will sponsor girls’ education in Kenya, Tanzania, India, and Nepal.”

In March of 2011, She’s the First founder/president Tammy Tibbetts and Hannah Brencher, creator of MoreLoveLetters.com, decided to combine their love of poetry and social media with their passion for girls’ education. Now in its second year, this year’s campaign began in February and will last 90 days, over the course of which She’s the First invites students to host their own She’s the First Open Mic Night to raise more money, and awareness for the project. The campaign will culminate in a spoken-word event in NYC on April 17.

Besides helping to sponsor girls’ education, She’s the First provides several other great reasons to participate and contribute to the Voice Your Verse campaign—the education of girls has greater implications beyond gender equality. Research consistently shows that educating girls and encouraging them to work outside the home raises the economic output and stability of a country.  In terms of the economy, maternal education is linked to lowered maternal mortality rates as well as improved hygiene standards; thus, promoting the education of girls can incite widespread effects. Did you know that approximately 1 in 7 girls are wed before the age of 15 in developing countries, and they often suffer complications or death from pregnancy? In fact, pregnancy is the leading cause of death for young girls between the ages of 15 and 19, and it has been shown that girls who stay in school longer have fewer children and marry later.

To find out more information about the campaign, and contribute to the cause, you can visit http://www.shesthefirst.org/poetry/ or http://www.shesthefirst.org/2012/04/poetryanthologygirlsponsorships/.

Photos courtesy of She’s the First.

Celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8!

By Liz Peters, Editorial Intern

Girls celebrate all sorts of holidays: Thanksgiving, Independence Day, their birthdays and those of their friends, maybe even Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza. But how often do you celebrate being female? International Women’s Day gives you the chance to scream, shout, and make merry over your womanhood!

Designed to connect girls and inspire futures, the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1909, driven by women taking a stand against their discrimination the year before. In inspiring futures, let’s take a look to see where we have been in the past. In 1908, 15,000 women stormed the streets of New York City, demanding shorter hours and better pay for their work, as well as the right to vote. One hundred years ago, women were not allowed to vote. They were not allowed to serve in the military; they were banned from many sports and jobs; they were not allowed to have abortions. I don’t even think they had the freedom to wear pants!

Today, all of that and more is possible.

We’ve come pretty far, ladies, but there is still more to conquer. And progress hasn’t come without a fight.  Recently, for example, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer charity, pulled their funding from Planned Parenthood, a sexual health and reproduction organization, because of various concerns. In 2008 alone, Planned Parenthood provided nearly 3 million people with health services, some, but not all, related to reproduction. Not only does Planned Parenthood provide medical services, it provides knowledge. As the nation’s largest sex educator, the organization brings issues and methods of contraception, family planning and sexual diseases to light, preparing women, younger and older, for anything that may come their way. Many women don’t have access to affordable sexual and health care, except through Planned Parenthood. In offering breast cancer screenings, Planned Parenthood examines the full health of a woman, possibly catching early signs of cancer and saving lives, at a minimum, encouraging women to get checked regularly.

It’s no wonder that the backlash to pulling funding was so strong. After facing heavy criticism, displayed on several social media sites, the Susan G. Komen Foundation listened to the concerns of the public and reversed its initial decision a mere three days after pulling its funds. They also offered an apology. But the fact that this incident happened at all is scary, and symbolic of how disturbingly women are positioned in this society. Can you imagine funding for men’s prostate cancer screening being pulled without warning?? It’s something to think about.

So despite many successes, the reality today is that women are still outnumbered in politics and the workplace, still receiving unequal pay to their male counterparts [check out our blog post on the Paycheck Fairness Act], still facing a glass ceiling in many fields. It’s clear that we still live in a patriarchy, where men hold the majority of the power. It’s time to even things out.

Under-represented and often misrepresented, women in today’s society need to jump the hurdles that the women of the past could not. It’s a lot of responsibility, but we can handle it. We’re up for the fight. Remember where we were 100 years ago? With your help, just imagine where we’ll be 100 years from now!

How You Can Join the Fight for Women

  •  Set goals and see them through
  • Get involved with your school’s student government
  • Find yourself an afterschool job
  • Play a sport traditionally viewed as for “the guys”
  • Volunteer at an organization focused on empowering girls and/or women
  • Investigate, question, and stay informed on issues surrounding women today

Lastly, on March 8, get together with your girls and celebrate being you—an empowered, intelligent, beautiful girl!  Happy International Women’s Day!

Logo courtesy of International Women’s Day

America Ferrera is No Dummy—She’s Inspirational!

By Janette Santos, Editorial Assistant
Photos by Max Tsekhanaovsky, Courtesy of The Mass Media

On Tuesday, January 31st, award-winning actress and political activist America Ferrera visited University of Massachusetts, Boston, where she was met with great warmth from the community. The reason for her visit? She was slated to speak about how race and class have affected her career. But in the end, America did much more than that. In recounting tales from her life, she heightened and inspired an entire ballroom of people.

Beginning on a humbled note: “Wow, I‘m sure there are a million other things you could do tonight. I‘ll try to make this worth your time!” Ferrera began to speak. She recalled how when she was nine years old, she used to daydream about having a life where the water in her house would never get shut off and the electricity would never go out. She dreamed of a life of fame, and wealth, and diamonds. She wanted to be a famous actress. America revealed that she caught the acting bug when she played the role of the Artful Dodger in a school production for Oliver Twist, and from then on, she just couldn’t stop. She appeared in a plethora of films and TV shows from a young age, such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Touched by An Angel, The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, How to Train Your Dragon, and most prominently, Ugly Betty.

But America did not fit the cookie-cutter image of an actress; she was not blonde, thin, or wealthy. She was quite the opposite of that, and that made her life difficult. America described, for example, how an ex-manager had once told her that she had “inflated ideas of what she could accomplish as an actress.” After that, all of a sudden, self-doubt began to constantly infiltrate her thoughts. She reported: “Like many other young people, I didn’t appreciate what made me unique.” This sentiment plagued her for years.

It wasn’t until she got to college and experienced what she calls her “pre-quarter life crisis” (a period in her life when she nearly quit acting) that Ferrera says her perspective of herself and her life changed dramatically. Fresh off the success of her movie, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, America decided that she would go back to college and study international relations. After a semester of learning about the existence of sweatshops, deformed baby alligators, and young girls forced into prostitution, America was utterly shocked by her ignorance. Growing up, America was academically gifted—she graduated from high school as the valedictorian—and was constantly told by teachers that she was “smart.” But after coming to college, Ferrera decided that she was “stupid.” She lamented: “I mourned the discovery of my stupidity. How could I be a dummy? But I didn’t know about the world; I didn’t know how to ask the right questions.”

At that point, America Ferrera looked upon her long-held passion and love for acting as a “frivolous, useless activity” that would not help people. She decided to quit acting. But luckily for her (and us!), America decided to speak to her professor/mentor, Mr. Anders, and ask him whether she was doing the right thing. In response, Mr. Anders told America about a young inner-city girl that he was mentoring. This girl had always held him at arm’s length, but one day she asked him if he really wanted to know what her life was really like. He answered, “yes,” and then at her request he took her, and a few of her friends, to see the film Real Women Have Curves. The movie was about a Mexican-American girl named Ana who is an accomplished student, but also works in her sister’s dress shop, and who, despite her mother’s old-fashioned perceptions of how a woman should behave, dreams of going to Columbia University. The movie portrays Ana’s struggles in dealing with both her traditional mother’s views, and her own self-image issues. Mr. Anders told America that because of that movie, he was able to open a dialogue with the young woman he was mentoring, and to tell her parents about her dreams of attending college, a dream that she was eventually able to fulfill. It was because of this movie, Mr. Anders told America, that this girl’s life was changed for the better. For those of you who don’t know, the role of Ana in that movie was played by America Ferrera.

All of a sudden it hit America that her passion for acting actually had the potential to help others. She realized, “I didn’t have to give up what I loved doing in order to help people.”

Ferrera referenced the many times over the course of her acting career that she was looked over for a role because she was “not Caucasian enough, or not authentically [Mexican] enough.” It hurt, but she realized that regardless, she needed to love herself. “I was fat, brown, poor, and ethnic…but my so-called faults made me perfect for [the role of Ana].” Likewise, in her role as the titular character in Ugly Betty, America felt that she was able to help people deal with the very same problems she went through growing up.

Ending her talk with a quote from Steven Levitan (the co-creator and executive producer of Ugly Betty), Ferrera stated, “[As actors,] we’re not just making people laugh, we’re making them more tolerant.”

And with that, the entire ballroom erupted into an uproarious standing ovation!

A Recipe for Change

By Lauren Castner, Alumna Editorial Assistant

Photos courtesy of She’s the First and Lindsay Brown

Did you ever think a cupcake could change a girl’s life?  Well, it can!  She’s the First, founded by Tammy Tibbetts and Christen Brandt in 2009, is a non-profit that raises money to help girls in developing countries become the first in their family to graduate from high school.  This fall She’s the First is hosting bake sales across the country to help raise funds to send more girls to school!

So why cupcakes?  Lindsay Brown, a college student from Notre Dame, took a trip to Nepal after selling baked goods from her dorm room to help support the Kopila Valley Children’s Home & School.  What was she selling?  The now famous tie-dye cupcake!  To read more about what inspired Lindsay and her trip to Nepal, click here.

She’s the First is in regular contact with many of the girls they sponsor – girls even blog for She’s the First and answer your questions.  One student, Jancy from India, just judged a T-Shirt Design Contest with Annie Wang, one of the founders of Her Campus!  The winning design is going to be on t-shirts sold this fall to raise more money for students like Jancy.

Are you interested in putting your baking skills to use for She’s the First?  You can help them reach their goal to have 200 bake sales across the country, with one in every state!  Teens in Alaska and Hawaii have already committed to join in the bake off, but many other states could still use representatives. (Click here to see the Bake Off map).

You can host a bake sale at your school! If you have any questions, check out this guide to hosting a great bake sale, or email Lauren Castner at laurencastner@shesthefirst.org!

Read She’s the First…Executive Director to learn more about this organization and find out why their executive director, Christen Brandt, is a Teen Voices Leading Lady!