So you wanna start a girls group…

Starting a girls’ group is an attractive project for many volunteers – it’s a great way to build self-esteem, strengthen leadership skills, share knowledge about sexual/reproductive health, and have fun! But where to begin? What ages do you want to focus on? Where will you hold the meetings? What topics make the most sense for your group? There are many things to consider.
To give you an idea of what worked for one volunteer, an RPCV shares her experience with the girls’ youth group she worked with over the course of her service…

The Gist
I had a girls’ youth group comprised of 9 girls ranging in ages from 6 to 13.
 
How I Formed It
It came about pretty organically – I was walking through town one day and one of the mothers asked if I would start a youth group with her daughter and nieces and neighbors. We decided we’d meet every Thursday from 5:30 to 7:00pm at the daughter’s house. (Fortunately all the girls lived very close so walking there at night was never an issue.)
 
Ages
My group really ranged in ages – the youngest was 6 and the oldest was 13. I thought this might be an issue (when I was in middle school, I knew I didn’t want to be hanging out with 1st graders), but it turned out it wasn’t. The girls were mostly sisters and cousins, so they were used to playing together. The only issue was that at times I wanted to teach more adult subjects like safe sex, domestic violence, etc, but because of the younger girls I avoided this.
 
Size of the group
I like the idea of no more than 10 kids. That makes it small enough to develop close relationships and maintain control. But it’s big enough to do different group activities, icebreakers, etc. I never had to set a limit with my group (we just lucked out with having 9), but in your case if you run into size issues it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea to cap it at 10-ish.
As for late joiners: The 9 main girls in the group were in it from the start. Throughout the two years though, we did have a couple other girls (and a boy) filter in and out of the group — whether it was for 3 months, 6 months, a year. I allowed that – especially since none of the topics were cumulative or anything – and they got their tickets/prizes every month like everyone else.
 
The Structure of the Group
The group activities were always focused around a specific theme. At the start of each month, I’d give the girls a few topics to choose from (ex: health, environment, sports, business, international cultures, art, life skills, etc.) Then they’d vote and the majority would win, and the following four Thursdays we’d do activities centered around that particular theme.
 
Incentives
To keep the girls coming, I gave each of them a ticket at the start of the month. Each week they attended, they’d get a star in the box. At the end of the month/theme, I’d bring in prizes and the girls picked in order of the number of stars on their tickets (ex: the girl with 4 stars picked 1st, the girl with 3 stars picked 2nd, etc.)
 
Discipline System
Although I never had to enforce it too much, I did a 3-strikes system with the girls. Each session, I’d tape on the wall a list of their names. If at any point they misbehaved, I’d give them a strike. After 3 strikes, the girl had to leave class and wouldn’t receive a star that day. (Luckily that only happened once.)
 
Other Thoughts/Tips
1. I’d definitely suggest doing a ticket system (or some type of incentive). I think the tickets were a big reason that I retained all the girls for the full two years.
2. I’d also suggest doing a monthly theme. Not only did things interesting and new, but it also gave the girls a sense of completion every 4 weeks (kind of like our group was always working towards and hitting a new goal).
3. Thinking of new activities each and every week on a tight budget can be a bit challenging. I’m not a very artsy person, so I never got fancy with art supplies or anything. But I did always make an effort to do a very hands-on project each week
There are many ways to do a youth group or girls group, and this is just one of them. Hopefully this has given you a few ideas for things you may want to do (or not do) in your site. Check back to see what volunteers have to say about the various resources and manuals they’ve used in their youth groups!
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