By Emily Williams
GirlSpring is showcasing a newly renovated website, revamped programming and a new teen advisory board featuring students from across the Greater Birmingham area.
“We wanted to recruit girls from all of the schools in the area to help create offline connections,” GirlSpring Executive Director Kristen Greenwood said.
The organization was created in 2010 by local philanthropist Jane Comer to support and encourage young women to be their own advocates and support each other. The new website supports Comer’s original mission while also taking into account where young girls conduct most of their conversations in today’s world.
“Most of these girls spend most of their time online – whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat – so the idea is to meet them where they are,” Greenwood said.
The teen advisory committee was another logical addition, according to Greenwood, because nobody knows what girls today are faced with like their peers.
“Some of their struggles are similar to mine,” she said. “Typical things like peer pressure and self-confidence are always there, but social media has really changed things.”
Some new struggles that she has heard her Springboarders describe are issues with bullying on social media. Most shocking to her, Greenwood said, is that girls are glorifying serious issues like depression, anxiety and cutting.
One hope that the organization is striving for is that the online forum reaches the hallways of local schools through the efforts of the youth advisers and results in an offline effect.
The website showcases a multitude of resources, from written works such as articles and movie reviews to poems and artwork – all created by young women.
“As a Springboarder, the girls are required to create content for the website,” Greenwood said. “But there is also the option for any young women to submit artwork, poems, stories to the website.”
The teen board meets once a month, usually on Saturdays, to discuss new themes and topics for their contributions as well as other ways they can expand their reach to other girls. The meetings begin with commentary and feedback on current topics and then the brainstorming begins.
“One great idea that the girls came up with totally on their own was to have this showing of Malala,” Greenwood said. “They chose the film and they also came up with the idea to host a live chat afterwards on the website with a question and answer session.”
The girls also came up with the idea to have monthly arts and writing contests with prizes to try to increase reader submissions. For August, the organization will run an art and writing contest open to ages 13-18. Winners will have their work featured on the website’s home page and will receive a $25 Amazon gift card.
“We also give them a way to give back to their community through volunteer opportunities,” she said. “This year we’re going to have a team participate in Race for the Cure.”
Through a partnership with Children’s of Alabama, Greenwood said, a group of Springboarders will make their way to Washington, D.C., this year to participate in a youth mental health council.
The Springboarders are currently 16 members strong, but Greenwood hopes to bump that number up to 30.
Current board members from the Over the Mountain area include: Chloe Bloodworth, Homewood; Lydia Bloodworth, Homewood; Lana Chen, Vestavia Hills High School; Satura Dudley, Hoover High School; LeYann Harris, Altamont; Carolina Phillips, Oak Mountain High School; Ainsley Platt, Mountain Brook Junior High School; Jane Perry Starling, Mountain Brook High School; Anne Mitchell Welch, Mountain Brook High School; Zoe Zahariadis, Altamont; and Sarah Zhao, Vestavia Hills High School.
On Aug. 19, the girls will host a screening of the documentary film “He Named Me Malala” at Avondale Park Amphitheatre. The movie will begin at 8 p.m. Following the film, the Springboarders will host a live chat session on the organization’s web page to discuss the message of the film.
To apply to be a Springboarder, girls ages 13-18 can complete an online application.
For more information, visit girlspring.com.