Igniting Rebel Women: Community Volunteers Champion Girl Empowerment at Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta
By Shara Garwood Sanders, J.D., Champions Club for GIRLS Chair, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta
Rebel Girls can change the world in oh so many ways.
They start by being who they are despite what others say.
And after that is said and done, they question what’s unfair.
They have big ideas, fight for what’s right, and show the world they care.
Under the sweltering heat of a mid-summer day at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, girl members of Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA) beamed with pride as they recited this “Rebel Girls Creed.”
The girls ranged in ages 10-15 and were all participants of an 8-week leadership and self-confidence workshop and book club inspired by Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, a New York Times bestselling children’s book by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo that showcases inspirational women throughout history. The Mad Hatter Tea Party was held in July 2019 as a culminating Rebel Girls event that included BGCMA’s women’s giving society Champions Club for GIRLS—a volunteer organization I am proud to chair.
Founded in 2011, Champions Club for GIRLS (or Growing Inspirational and Responsible Leaders) connects women across Atlanta to empower each other and make a difference in the community. We fundraise, volunteer, support, and advocate for all BGCMA members, especially young women.
Our signature initiatives include the Rebel Women Luncheon, an annual event to inspire and connect women by creating a space to promote the rebel in all of us; and Senior Send-Off Bags, where we supply Club members who are graduating high school with supplies they need to start off on their own. We host special events just for girls, including Girls Fitness Day, career panels, Girl Talk (an opportunity for girls to discuss and hear from guest speakers about self-love and ways to build self-esteem), and Outfitted for Fitness, where young women are fitted with new sports bras. We also personally contribute to BGCMA and support the organization’s key fundraisers, including the annual character & leadership-focused Youth of the Year gala and workforce readiness benefit at TopGolf.
BGCMA’s girl-specific programming teaches girls, young women and all youth to dream big. The organization offers a safe, supportive space for female Club members to discover their identities as young women, as well as explore and develop skills they need to become problem-solvers, innovators and leaders.
As a professional woman navigating a male-dominated society and mother to a 14-year-old daughter who is the center of my world, I understand the importance of organizations like BGCMA in the lives of young women. Growing up, I had a rougher childhood surrounded by family members challenged by substance abuse and domestic violence. If my brother, sister, and I could have gotten out and had a place to go like Boys & Girls Club of Metro Atlanta, I wonder if our lives would have been easier. Maybe if I had women like our Champions Club members in my life, I wouldn’t have been in my 30s or 40s before I finally realized I had anything to offer.
Our girls have so much to offer. They are truly thriving in life and strengthening their communities and the world. Rebel girls at BGCMA include 17-year-old Regina Martinez, who is blazing her trail in history as the 2021-2022 BGCMA Youth of the Year. Her proud Mexican roots and story of triumph fuel her ambitious zest for life and have led her to pursue bioengineering and a career building prosthetics and medical equipment. A leader in her Club and community, she holds a 4.02 GPA and membership in the National Honor Society, local Beta Club, and a Girl Scout Troop where she’s presided as president since 2020.
Rebel girls at BGCMA are also doing amazing things in academics and career readiness. During the 2019-2020 school year (prior to the onset of the pandemic), 440 girls participated in girl empowerment programs such as Global Girls, Rebel Girls and/or Girls on the Run, 51% of middle and high school girls reported being active 5 days per week for 1 hour or more, 57% participated in Boys & Girls Clubs leadership programs such as Keystone, Torch, and iCan; and 100% of young women who participated in BGCMA’s career readiness program graduated high school on time with a post-high school plan and placement.
At BGCMA, 63% of staff are women, and girls constitute 47% of the kids & teens served at the Clubs. Girls like Regina are led by extraordinary women in their Clubs and communities who arm them with skills and opportunities to become strong, confident leaders. Yet the voices & contributions of women & girls remain undervalued in larger society.
Rebel women and girls are constantly fighting to break down barriers to achieve equity in pay, healthcare, and basic human rights. As cliché as it may sound, the children are our future. If we want to see change, we must invest in them. Giving girls a platform to express their voices and take lead on issues that matter to them is one important way in which we can all help to break down those barriers as we help prepare our next generation of leaders.
Investing in our youth through volunteer opportunities and programs like Champions Club for GIRLS not only helps our youth and our community, it also helps our souls. Seeing how much joy BGCMA’s members have during our activities really helps me. They give me more than I feel like I’ve given them. They give me meaning and purpose. Investing in the kids & teens of Boys & Girls Clubs is really an investment in our community, ourselves, and the world.
As an attorney and community volunteer, I have been honored to serve in leadership positions with Junior League of DeKalb County (President, 2017-2019), League of Women Voters of Georgia (Treasurer, 2020-present), and of course Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta’s Champions Club for GIRLS (Fundraising Chair, 2020; Chair, 2021-present).
So much has changed over the past two years while we’ve all been weathering the storm of COVID-19, including how volunteers can make an impact. For example, our Club-based volunteer programming shifted to virtual spaces or socially distanced outdoor arenas. We are excited to finally be able to return to hands-on volunteer opportunities, while continuing to incorporate virtual activites as well. And the need for volunteer leaders and partners pouring into our youth is more important now than ever.
Thanks to the generous support of our community—including donors and volunteer partners—BGCMA was able to keep its Blue Doors open during the pandemic and continue to provide affordable after-school and summer programs for kids and teens. BGCMA continues to ignite the unlimited potential of kids & teens by creating safe, inclusive, and engaging environments, with programs focused on academics, healthy lifestyles, character & leadership. The organization now serves kids and teens in 26 Club sites across 11 counties. That’s 26 different places in 11 different metro Atlanta areas where you can make an impact in the lives of young people.
In addition to Champions Club activties, BGCMA offers a myriad of impactful programs specifically for young women, including SMART Girls, a small-group health, fitness, education and self-esteem program that helps young women build skills for eating right, staying physically fit, getting good health care and developing positive relationships with peers and adults; and the Girls Empowering Movement (GEM) program, a statewide initiative to increase physical activity and fitness levels of Georgia’s middle school girls through activities designed and led by girls.
My fellow Atlanta community members, if you are looking to make a tangible impact, I encourage you to support youth-serving organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta. This Women’s History Month and all year long, I also challenge you to help ignite the rebel in girls in your community by expanding their sense of what is possible to achieve and exceed.
As a member of Champions Club for GIRLS, you will:
- see first-hand the impact of your financial support of Boys & Girls Club’s female empowerment programs
- learn about the issues facing the young women we serve
- engage with our Club girls and teens through hands-on volunteer opportunities
- meet other women who are leaders in the community.