Outdoor GIRLS – Empowering Girls at Grace Apartments

Every Tuesday a group of young ladies meets in one of the community rooms at Grace Apartments in Denver to participate in a brand-new program called “Outdoors GIRLS,” run by Colorado-based nonprofit Women’s Wilderness. As part of Mercy Housing’s Out-of-School Time programming, this 10-week program is designed for girls ages 10+ and teaches them life skills, coping skills, and empowerment skills.

This unique partnership came to be when Airille, Resident Services Coordinator at Grace Apartments reached out to Women’s Wilderness through a community partner, CARESNETWORK. “I wound up being connected with Savina, one of their Program Directors,” Airille said. “Savina used to work for Mercy Housing, so she was super eager to connect with the Grace youth.”

The program begins with a snack and participants talking about their day. Some of the girls have a lot to share, others simply say that their day was “fine,” offering few details. A few of the girls at Grace already know each other from school or the community, but for many, it’s their first-time meeting. For the program leaders, it is important to stress that this is a safe space for these young ladies to share and get to know one another beyond being “familiar faces” they see around every now and then – they want to build a stronger community.

Savina explains, “it is important for the girls to feel like they belong, and to connect with one another.”

When asked what they are looking forward to over the course of the next 10 weeks, Mys’Gyani says, “making new friends.” While Sophia adds, “going on field trips and all the activities.”

Two girls visit the giraffes at the Denver Zoo
Two girls visit the giraffes at the Denver Zoo

As Sophia mentioned, field trips are also a part of the Outdoor GIRLS program. Once a month, the instructors will take the girls on an outdoor adventure where the girls can learn how to apply the skills they are learning as part of the OUTDOOR Girls team. Their first field trip was to the Denver Zoo and the girls had a “blast,” said Airille. “They got a private room and were treated to a nice lunch at the end.”

The Wind Blows.

Today the group is playing a game called, “The Wind Blows.” The point of this game is to show the young women that they have similarities that connect them with each other and differences that make each of them unique. And that all those traits should be embraced.

The game begins with the girls sitting in a circle on chairs and Savina standing in the middle. Airille can’t help but join in as well.

“The wind blows for anyone who has long hair,” she says. For the girls who have long hair, this means that they must quickly switch chairs (think musical chairs, without the music) and sit down. However, one person will be stuck standing in the middle of the circle because she didn’t find an empty chair to sit on fast enough.

“That was fun,” one of the girls shared.

Following a 10-minute break, they return to the circle and Savina announces it is time for journaling. The girls had made their own journals the previous week. Today, she wants them to draw either petals on a flower or leaves on a tree, and in each petal/leaf write down, “what makes you, you?”

One girl proudly says, “my heart, my brain, and my actions.”

Building Community Through Resident Services Programming

Through an array of onsite Resident Services programming, Mercy Housing staff works with residents to build a sense of community within the communities Mercy Housing builds. This also happens through community partnerships. The Outdoor GIRLS program is just one example of what can happen when two organizations join together to help residents achieve their goals, in this case, encouraging the girls to feel more empowered.”

Participants in the Outdoor Girls program practice team-building skills

“The girls who are a part of this program are a great bunch and have grown in so many ways since we began,” Airille recently shared. “They are confident and being in this program makes them feel more empowered.”

She added, “I have seen them make new friends on the property and invite them to the program without hesitation. Whether it is pointing out the wrongdoing of a friend or stating how they feel, they are more talkative and are more inclined to express their emotions.”

Thank you, Women’s Wilderness for bringing the Outdoor GIRLS program to Grace Apartments.