|||Her story: from homeless to Harvard|
By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Zenaida Serrano
Don't let the braces, ponytail and jelly bracelets fool you.
Lynn Huff may be just 11 years old, but she already knows how she'll be earning a living.
"I want to be a lawyer," the Kalakaua Middle School sixth-grader said with a confident smile.
Her friend, 10-year-old Arleth-Joy Tolentino, is just as ambitious.
"I want to be a singer, but I'm thinking about being in the Coast Guard because my dream is about saving people's lives," said the fourth-grader at Kalihi-waena Elementary School.
Lynn and Arleth-Joy, both of Kalihi, are among nearly a dozen participants in the Junior League of Honolulu's MyStory project. The 9-week course highlights the potential of adolescent girls 11 to 14 years old who may need to break through economic or social barriers to succeed.
Helping girls realize their dreams and passions — such as Lynn's and Arleth-Joy's career goals — is one of the program's objectives. MyStory teaches girls how to define for themselves who they are and what they want in life, and give voice to what is important to them. MyStory participants will also be guests at HerStory 2006, another community project of the Junior League. (See story at right.)
At a recent session at Kalihi's Susannah Wesley Community Center, Lynn and Arleth-Joy were among a group of eight chatty, giggly girls sitting at desks in a classroom setting. They filled out worksheets about their passions while snacking on strawberries and listening to pop music.
The girls broke up into small groups to discuss topics such as their favorite types of books and clothing styles, and the positive changes they'd like to make in the world.
"No pollution in the ocean and the air!" Lynn exclaimed.
"No bad people!" Arleth-Joy responded.
Bernice Bowers, co-chairwoman of the program, said, "Our key goal is to really teach these girls that there are many choices that they have in their own lives and that there are many tools that they can use to articulate their choices."
HerStory, the women's conference, will emphasize the point with keynote speaker Liz Murray, who went from being homeless to attending Harvard after focusing her goals on education and her future.
"(Liz) had a sense of direction and she found her voice," Bowers said. "This is an incredible opportunity for us to connect the girls ... to someone who has done it. It can't help but inspire."
Murray has equal praise for the MyStory program and its participants.
"It's amazing," Murray said from her home in Cambridge, Mass. "Teaching young women how to focus their voices and find their value through their own story, I definitely can relate to that. ... It's empowering."
The Junior League of Honolulu launched the MyStory project last September at the Boys & Girls Club of Hawaii in Kalihi. Sessions are being held through next month at the Susannah Wesley Community Center.
The project helps girls discover the power they have within themselves through verbal sharing and creative activities, including making collages, writing poetry, journal-keeping and storytelling. The core curriculum covers topics such as what it means to be a girl, body image, friendship and love.
Leslie Kapana, 12, of 'Ewa Beach, who completed the program last year, said she especially appreciated a session on how to handle bullies.
"They taught us how to be attentive and how to handle problems," said Leslie, a seventh-grader at Washington Middle School.
MyStory is a confidential, non-judgmental and safe environment that allows girls to freely express themselves — a big deal, Arleth-Joy said.
"Mostly (girls) are shy to talk in classes because there are boys, and there are only girls in this, so it's private," the fourth-grader said.
What else do they appreciate about MyStory and its facilitators?
"Telling me to keep sticking to my goals," Lynn said.
"And to take charge," Arleth-Joy added.
Graduates of the program are encouraged to share what they learn with others, Bowers said.
"We know these young women are going to be so key at influencing so many people around them in their community," Bowers said. "...They just have a pivotal role, so we're hoping that they can start to carry this out, teach it through example."
Reach Zenaida Serrano at firstname.lastname@example.org.