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The Boys and Girls Club (BGC) has been working diligently to bring the SMART Girls Mentoring Program to the Northside.

A national BGC program has made its way to the La Crosse community. Debuting at the Southside Club, the programming has now extended its reach to the Northside with the help of Director of Program Development, Teigen Haye.

SMART stands for “Skills Mastery and Resilience Training.” The SMART Girls program concentrates on wellness, prevention education and self-esteem enhancement with a unique focus each year. Girls ranging from ages 5 to 18 are able to explore their own, community and societal attitudes, behaviors and values as they develop skills to create a healthy life and positive relationships.

It is important for the SMART Girls program to provide flexibility. Having an adaptable programing allows girls the opportunity to raise their self-esteem and improve their mental health in a comfortable environment.

The unique youth and family services the Boys and Girls Club is able to offer ensures everyone’s needs are met.

SMART Girls made its debut in the summer of 2019 with a focus on middle and high school girls’ mental health and their connections to peers and adults. Middle and high school girls were invited to join BGC staff and program partners to engage in a summer of self-development.

It was important to the BGC to create an environment where girls felt comfortable enough to let their guard down and talk openly about things going on around them. Girls within the program are often face problems at home or other challenges. SMART Girls gives these young women a healthy outlet to process issues and a community where they are supported.

The Northside Club collaborated with Estina Hanes, owner of E Spa in downtown La Crosse, to give girls the opportunity to learn and develop their identities.

The girls joined Estina at her spa on a biweekly basis to engage in self-care projects and conversation. While at the spa, girls were able to create makeup powder to match their skin tone, custom essential oil blends and useful techniques for working through negative emotions.

Estina opened up and shared her story with the girls, which encouraged girls to feel safe in the environment and in turn do the same. 

The openness was consistent throughout the programming even beyond the walls of the salon.

Justice Lawson, Northside’s Youth and Family Services Director, was heavily involved during programming. She was able to provide an avenue for girls to talk on an individual basis and gain trust in focused discussions. Justice along with Southside’s Youth and Family Services Director, Laquita Becker, were then able to facilitate lessons based on the discussions.

The girls allowed themselves to be more comfortable and vulnerable as they started to trust mentors they have within the program. 

To finish off the summer, girls were asked to participate in Fashion for Women’s Empowerment, a fashion show benefiting SMART Girls program, at Maple Grove Venues in West Salem. Five girls from Northside’s SMART Girls represented different local stores. The fashion show was a great end to the summer. It empowered girls and gave them one more major confidence boost at the end of the summer.

The strong community involvement in the event showed the girls that they have a community that extends beyond the SMART Girls program and BGC staff.

 The SMART Girls Mentoring Program is an initiative of the Boys and Girls Club. The Boys and Girls Club was established as a nonprofit in 1860. To learn more about SMART Girls and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse, check out their website and like their Facebook page.