Girls Empowerment Network: Igniting a Spark in the Pandemic

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A Junior League of Austin community placement spotlight


Last year, I had the joy of working with Girls Empowerment Network in my first placement as an active member of The Junior League of Austin (JLA).

Like most newly-active members, I was eager to serve my community, make a difference in the lives of others, and also to earn the hours all members must achieve in order to stay active in JLA. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

With stay-at-home orders in place, I worried about how I’d be able to continue with my placement. But Girls Empowerment Network didn’t stop doing what they do best for young women in Austin and the surrounding communities. The organization, founded in 1996, soon involved its JLA volunteers in virtual discussions on how to continue to garner self-esteem, self-love, emotional maturity, and a love of learning in Central Texas third through twelfth-grade girls.


About Girls Empowerment Network

Young girl with a bright future

The well-being of girls in third through eighth grades is the key focus of Girls Empowerment Network.

Before the pandemic, Girls Empowerment Network executed its mission through in-person workshops, where volunteers guided girls through age-appropriate conversations aimed at bolstering critical thinking. Whether discussing dating with middle school girls or how to be a good friend with fourth graders, I looked forward to these Saturdays for the diverse group of children they brought together and often found myself learning from them in the process.

In 2019, the organization also hosted an all-day conference called We Are Girls specifically designed for 3rd – 8th grade girls and their parents and teachers.


Girls Empowerment Network’s Virtual Programs

Since COVID-19, Girls Empowerment Network has gotten creative—literally—to continue to empower young women while socially distant. With the design and delivery of Spark Kits (boxes aimed at empowering young women through self-guided and collaborative activities), participation supplies, and access to virtual mentoring and online social groups, volunteers hope to ease the stress of 2020 for young ladies in third through eighth grades.

The virtual workshops were the product of several phone calls I and volunteers made to Girls Empowerment Network program participants at the height of the pandemic. Parents and participants alike said they missed the opportunity for learning and growth with others, as well as the mentorship from role models like JLA volunteers.

Volunteers can also continue to serve as relatable role models while staying socially distant by writing letters to participants in Girls Empowerment Network programs.

Spark Kits from Girls Empowerment Network

Spark Kits are one way Girls Empowerment Network boosts confidence for preteen and teen girls.


Girls Empowerment Network’s Real Impact

Caroline Crawford, former Chief Program Officer for Girls Empowerment Network, shared her story of a young lady who has made her time with the organization all worthwhile.

“During our Pathfinder Program, a six-day long leadership summit, I met Kristel,” Crawford said, describing her as a 15-year-old girl whose actions showed she clearly did not want to be there. “I really didn’t know if she would come back, though before she left, I told her I believed she was powerful and that I would miss her if she did not return.”

Kristel returned the next day, and Crawford learned of the immense personal battles she was fighting. It was then she decided to get to know her better and help her learn through the workshops as the Pathfinder Program intended. Not only did Crawford see a gradual change in Kristel throughout the week, but more importantly, Kristel came back to see her many months after the program. Using the tools the program discussed, Kristel was able to adopt a better mindset so that she could end an abusive relationship, no longer entertain the idea of using drugs, and bring her grades up in school.

Kristel was able to make her mother proud. And that, Crawford said, made her proud to be a part of Girls Empowerment Network.



Jillian Bliss | The Junior League of Austin member

About the Author: Jillian Bliss is in her second year as an active member of The Junior League of Austin. When she’s not writing for LeagueLines, you’ll probably find her running around Town Lake, training with one of her horses for a competition, or catching up on the latest episodes of “90 Day Fiancé.”