Empowering Girls, Changing the World

While it’s never been particularly easy to be a young woman, it’s uniquely tough in this day and age. In addition to the age-old challenges of social drama and academic achievement, girls today have to navigate a swirling storm of instant and around-the-clock communication, near-constant body image pressure, and a blizzard of aggressively-filtered representations of success and happiness. In other words, it’s a bit of a jungle out there.

“Growing up today is challenging for young girls, whose confidence often drops by almost 30 percent when they enter middle school. We aim to overcome that statistic by planting the seeds of confidence, building self esteem, and encouraging girls to become courageous as they stand in their authentic selves,” says Elly Garrett, Executive Director of GAP!

Since 1997, the organization (whose moniker stands for Girls Actively Participating) has sought to empower and inspire young women around the Tetons through connection, learning, and giving back. Today, the organization serves over 200 girls each year.

“GAP! leadership programming is based on critical research done around today's most successful women from many walks of life. Research shows that thriving women possess three characteristics that allow them to become ninjas in their life endeavors: competence, confidence, and community connectedness. Meetings with our elementary and middle school participants are designed to enhance these characteristics through personal empowerment and active community experiences,” explains Elly.

GAP!’s personal empowerment program provides points of connection, inclusion, integration, activity, and creativity with positive communication and social-emotional learning components: a constellation of components. “We work with 3-5th grade girls to help them discover their personal strengths, practice positive assertive communication, become brave in trying new activities, inviting kindness, connection, and asking for what they need in communicating with each other. We have found that introducing these concepts early helps girls become more likely to transition successfully to middle school and beyond,” Elly observes. “We continue to deliver relevant content in middle school on themes such as identifying core values, overcoming obstacles, encouraging body image positivity, looking at common socio-cultural expectations, working with mindfulness, movement, and engaging activities to keep girls coming back for more!”

When young women are encouraged to be true to themselves, and when they’re taught how to cultivate self-esteem and courage in any situation, that is setting them up to be empowered and impactful women. Whether that’s through their role as a parent, through their career, or in the ways that they give back and help the community around them, strong women enrich every community,” says Molly Hughes, Executive Director of the Hughes Charitable Foundation.

“Some of the values GAP! champions are leaning into include self-discovery, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and thus courageous, to accept themselves and others as they are, to be willing to make mistakes and learn from them, to be brave over perfect, to come as they are, and respect themselves and others. To not judge, but rather lift each other up with grace and grit. To be kind, compassionate and community-minded. To be resilient in the face of adversity, and to love themselves without limitation,” says Elly. These values undoubtedly set young women up to be the most authentic and engaged version of themselves, through their school years and beyond.

Elly continues: "By instilling some of the above-described values, building self-awareness of who they are and how they operate in the world, and creating a willingness to support themselves and others, girls are able to move in this challenging world honestly, stand in their personal truth with integrity, overcome obstacles, become willing to try new things without the paralyzing fear of judgment by their peers, build confidence and self-esteem, and become the female powerhouses of our future.”

“At the Hughes Charitable Foundation, we firmly believe that the brightest version of our collective future includes more women in leadership and in impactful roles,” adds Molly Hughes. “Wyoming — and the world — will undoubtedly be a brighter, more just, and more thriving place with people like these incredible young women at the helm.”