We believe that young women need to see themselves represented in their community. They need a safe space to share their stories and plan for their futures. One way to do that is by forming connections with successful women leaders.
That’s why we run Circles, our after-school club at Norris Middle School in Omaha. Now entering its fifth year, Circles gives girls and nonbinary students the ability to meet and learn from “coaches” in a range of career fields.
Civic Nebraska’s Maranda Loughlin organizes the coaches – from leaders in business and science to the arts and the nonprofit world – to speak to the girls each week.
“When you have a community of women or nonbinary people that want to speak to youth that also identify in those ways, then you get so many stories and so many lessons,” she said.
Students have heard from filmmakers, professional skateboarders, musicians, architectural engineers, and more. The process to reach out to potential role models, Maranda said, is student-driven.
“I ask students who they want to meet,” she said. “And then I call people in the community.”
Maranda and the students understand that the coaches coming in are busy and might not always be able to meet, but they join the clubs as their schedules allow. Sometimes, coaches will come once a month; others, once a year. Lessons typically last 45 minutes and then the students engage in a hands-on activity with the coach.
“Club meetings are never the same – that’s what’s kind of cool about it. You’re creating lessons with the community,” Maranda said.
Aracely Gonzalez Diaz, a Norris eighth-grader who has been part of Circles for two years, said the club empowers her and helps her see herself in different careers. And, she said, she knows Maranda and the coaches truly care about her and her schoolmates.
“I feel like my voice is finally heard here,” Aracely said.
It’s clear that Circles leaves a positive impact on its students, Maranda said, even the effects can not always be easily quantified.
“It’s a space for kids to feel safe to just be open with who they are,” she said. “It’s a creative and open space for them to be uniquely them.”