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GRCC and GRPS: Shaping tomorrow’s female leaders together

May 13, 2024

Who inspired you when you were young? 

Many adults can think of pop culture icons or superstar athletes who captured their childhood imaginations with their glamour and fame. Today’s young people are no different. However, the curated and unrealistic lens of social media often distorts their view of these legendary stars. So where do they go to find out about real life topics? With whom do they have meaningful conversations, experience mentorship, and discover empowerment? 

“Girls are often silenced, stereotyped or seen as being without influence,” stated Jamillya Hardley, director of the Woodrick Center of Inclusion and Multicultural Affairs at Grand Rapids Community College. “That’s why I was so honored and pleased to be on the planning committee for the 2024 GRPS Girls Youth Conference. This work provides a way to pour into our youth and uplift them in order to change the narrative.” 

More than 250 middle school girls from 10 Grand Rapids Public Schools chose to participate in this year-long conference. It began in October with a kickoff event at which the girls from each school met their facilitator. That individual was an advisor, a teacher, or an advocate who they could connect to from the school. 

Then they met each month for workshops, conversations or activities around the theme “Faith, Focus, Future.” The planning committee chose these words for a reason. 

“They are all positive and progressive words that are also subject to personal interpretation,” Hardley said.  “We wanted words that would be familiar to the girls, but that they could also interpret and explore in their own individual ways.” 

GRCC hosted a finale event on May 1 at the Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse with all the girls and their facilitators. 

“It was an incredible event,” Hardley said. “We held panel discussions with local professionals from a number of fields. We conducted breakout sessions on topics such as mental health and relationships. We shared lunch, and then wrapped up with presentations in which speakers from each school shared perspectives on the theme and what it had meant to them.” 

It’s understandable the girls would be excited about coming to GRCC together and experiencing a college campus. But for Hardley, the most astounding thing was their engagement. 

“These girls were so in tune with themselves,” she said. “I wasn’t as progressive at their age! They were asking about credit and taxes and how to sustain a home and family. They asked so many great questions. This was a truly remarkable way to give them a voice and a space to share their thoughts.”  

Hardley said that partnering with GRPS and hosting this conference is a natural fit for GRCC. 

“We are trying to become more student-centered and more community-centered,” she said. “What better way to do this than to invite these girls to our campus so they can meet people who are invested in them? I believe the girls left with both a physical and emotional sense of how they can challenge themselves and grow into leaders.”

Having a sense of belonging and purpose will transform the young ladies who participated in this year-long program. 

“The bonds they created are so important,” Hardley said. “I know that this work helps build connection and community for girls who otherwise might be marginalized, silenced, or historically under-represented. I hope they left feeling inspired about a future that is bright and unlimited.” 

This story was reported by Julie Hordyk.