(Mount Vernon Nazarene University) – As a mother and former children’s pastor and social worker, Kelly Daniels understands the need and value in being a strong role model for young girls and she practices what she preaches.
Daniels recently closed out the first year of her program, Girls Investing in Girls. The program partnered Mount Vernon Nazarene University social work students as mentors to fifth-grade girls at Dan Emmett and Pleasant Street elementary schools and has proven to be quite a success on more levels than intended.
“GIG has been a great partnership in providing students an opportunity to mentor fifth-grade girls and help facilitate discussions around healthy self-image and relationships,” said Christine Childers, MVNU social work field education coordinator. “Kelly has created a quality program through GIG and has provided a great service learning opportunity for field students.”
Daniels developed the curriculum for GIG with MVNU alumni Lyndsey Andrews and Brit Eaton to instill confidence and positive encouragement she hopes lasts a lifetime.
“We met and started forming lessons together, just by thinking first what we wanted all of them to know — ideas we want to put in them so they aren’t just prepared for middle school but for life,” said Daniels.
With a teaching plan in hand, Daniels went looking for volunteers and found Childers. What Daniels created in GIG was an opportunity for social work students to fulfill part of their requirement toward 35 volunteer hours with a community social service agency.
“The field observation provides students with an agency practice experience early in their program enabling them to become familiar with generalist social work practice, practice settings, roles of a social worker, agency policies, populations served and community issues,” said Childers. “The course also allows students to begin assessing personal suitability for the social work profession.”
With curriculum, volunteers and approval from the Mount Vernon Board of Education, Daniels and an MVNU student attended 2018-19 fifth-grade orientations hoping to encourage girls to sign up for GIG. The response was overwhelming with nearly every girl in both schools signing up for placement in one of two semester-long series of lessons, activities and mentorship.
GIG met once a week, after school, at each building. The hour began with a snack followed by the lesson and activity which focused on topics such as character building, handling conflict and relationships. Observation students separated into mentor groups with two fifth graders where they continued to discuss the lesson or share life experiences.
“The first couple of weeks, I’m teaching the lesson and the girls are really engaged in the lesson,” said Daniels. “After that, you can tell they are just waiting so they can talk to the MVNU students. By the time we hit lessons six, seven and eight, I let the MVNU students do almost all of it and it has been awesome.”
While Daniels sees many goals in putting GIG into practice, it is important for her to help young girls establish self-worth and strong relationships with other girls that continue to develop through adulthood.
“We’re trying to plant the idea that girls were created to be better and accomplish more than what they’ve seen or heard from society and from social media,” Daniels said. “Their chances of being successful are greatly improved when they support each other as women. I reminded our MVNU students every week that the words we speak to these girls could potentially change their lives, so make them count.”
Daniels not only uses the five observation students assigned to her each semester, but as the administrative assistant in the MVNU athletic department she has recruited cheerleaders as well as soccer and basketball players to participate in GIG lessons.
“We pull our athletes in when we talk about learning how to be kind to one another and using kind words to each other,” said Daniels. The soccer girls come and they talk about how they support each other on the team and they play bubble soccer with us. When we are learning how to build each other up and form relationships with people who support us, the cheerleaders came and helped us build a pyramid.”
“I shared about how to handle conflict and relationships being on a team,” said Anna Chrysler, a junior soccer player from Columbus, studying public relations and Spanish. “I gave examples about how girls can apply the idea of being on a team to their daily lives such as thinking of their classmates as teammates instead of just people. This could encourage them to have a positive mindset in how they treat others.”
While GIG has proven to meet its initial goal of strengthening and empowering young girls, for Daniels, some of the most precious moments of GIG happen after the fifth-graders are gone and she mentors the MVNU students.
“At the end of every session, we tell the fifth-graders to write their worries down and leave them behind with us,” Daniels said. “Then we take those and we gather as a group and we pray for them. I also pray for the mentors. It’s really important for me that the MVNU students learn that we need to invest in each other no matter how busy you are.”
As the first year has drawn to a close, Childers is overjoyed with the experience for all involved in GIG.
“GIG is a quality program that enriches both the fifth-grade students and field observation students,” said Childers. “Our students have provided such positive feedback and they have loved their placement with GIG and Kelly.”
When asked if GIG will continue in the 2019-20 school year, Daniels said she needs to secure volunteers beyond the social work program.
“I would love for GIG to continue and for it to spread to other schools,” Daniels said. “I just need to have some things fall into place. I need women — I need more female leaders. I need women who believe in what we’re doing and are willing to commit.”
Daniels is thankful for the partnerships that have made the first year of GIG a success including Escape Zone, First Church of the Nazarene’s children’s and women’s programs, fifth-grade teachers at Pleasant Street Elementary and MVNU Admissions office.
For more information on how to volunteer or partner with GIG, contact Daniels at 740-501-7178.
For more information on MVNU’s Social Work program, visit mvnu.edu/undergraduate/academics/socialwork.