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Paying tribute to strong women

By Heidi Bailey and Nicolas Grizzle
May 19, 2008
“I would like to pay tribute to my mother, a woman of incredible strength and wisdom,” wrote Julia Pereria in the program for the Circle of Sisters Tributes event held May 9 at Sonoma State University. Over 130 tributes were made in the program honoring mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, friends and mentors. Nearly 100 middle school-aged girls and their families and friends attended the event where guest speakers, a video featuring personal tributes and a catered dinner created a celebration of the sisterhood of women. Alexandra Walter, 23, was a main coordinator for the event. She’s an Americorps volunteer for the Circle of Sisters, a part of the St. Joseph Health Care System of Sonoma County. Amy Chevrolet, Circle of Sisters program director, said the event raised several hundred dollars and originally started off with the intent to be a fund raiser. “We realized early on that it wasn’t going to be a big fund raiser since the plan was to provide a free night for participating girls and their families.” They only charged for those outside of the program. At only $10 for those few folks who attended who weren’t part of the program, it went from a fund-raiser to a “friend-raiser” she says. “For us it was all about the opportunity to have the girls and women honored.” The whole program in addition to the event, she says, is an opportunity to connect and be in a relationship with other women and girls. The keynote speaker was Andrea Johnston, co-founder of Girls Speak Out, an organization that strives to build confidence and power in young girls. She gave an empowering demonstration to a group of about 15 brave young women who came up to the stage. Each took a piece of a Russian matryoshka (stacking) doll and held it. Each girl was then asked her age, which ranged from 11 to 14. Johnston pointed out that upon turning 11 years old, you don’t feel any older. That’s because you’re still 10, and 9, and 8, she says. And even when you’re 67, you’re still 44, 35, 21 and 11. She asked the girls what they would like to keep from themselves when each was 67. The last response was “my self esteem,” which prompted murmurs of agreement from the crowd. The Circle of Sisters is a nonprofit program designed as a nine-month weekly after school violence-prevention program. One of the middle school campuses it takes place at is Mountain Shadows. The program targets girls ages 10-14 providing them a safe nurturing environment to interact and form healthy relationships with peers and adult role-models. They aim to give empowerment to these girls with self-esteem and decision-making skills, helping them with their physical and emotional changes female adolescents experience within their age range. The main goal of the program is to reduce youth violence through awareness and education of prevention and risk reduction factors. They provide female youths with abilities that will boost their positive developmental assets, respect for others, and shape lasting patterns of healthy behavior.