By Paige Pihl Buckley, Operations Manager & Case Management Coordinator
Twice a week, for ten weeks each summer, the My Life My Choice office is abuzz with our annual Summer Leadership Corps. This summer of 2015 was no exception. Five young leaders from My Life My Choice participated in the program which included activities ranging from meeting with Congressman Joseph Kennedy III and Ambassador Swanee Hunt, to making vision boards and a crash course in spinning at Soul Cycle. The idea of this program is to teach our girls important job skills – communications skills, teamwork, appropriate dress – while also teaching them how to take care of their whole selves and to build positive relationships with other girls. Their takeaways from the program are as diverse as they are …
“My Life My Choice has helped me find myself: who I am, who I want to be, my own strength and inspiration. I haven’t done it alone. I have built relationships with everyone here. They have become my family. I have newfound patience and compassion for the people in my life. Summer Leadership Corps has taught me so much about myself and how to have healthy relationships with the people around me. The staff and other girls have helped me so much and I hope I’ve helped them too."
Samantha, age 16
Others felt their takeaways were much more concrete, like Maria, 16, who said, “I learned how to communicate with girls, something I had trouble with. By meeting with Dress for Success, I learned how to dress for a job interview.” And Natalie, 17, felt particularly empowered by her meeting with Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, “Nothing else in the world could make me feel more like a leader than the day we met with Congressman Kennedy. Meeting with Congressman Kennedy made me feel like such a big leader because I sat in front of the Congressman who represents Massachusetts and stated my opinion on how johns and exploitation should be dealt with … and he listened.”
In addition to having the ear of our political leaders, Summer Leadership Corps participants helped our co-founder and director, Lisa Goldblatt Grace, develop materials about commercial sexual exploitation that will be distributed at schools throughout Massachusetts. These materials will teach schoolkids about the signs of exploitation and who to ask for help. They also developed a glossary of appropriate terms for media to utilize when covering issues surrounding commercial sexual exploitation, and explained the harms of some of the current terminology. They even met with representatives from WBUR – the Boston NPR affiliate – to discuss what responsible, respectful media coverage looks like. Their voices were heard. “We all worked together on projects that one day will make a positive impact on exploitation,” Natalie said.
As a staff member who spends much of her time behind the scenes, the Summer Leadership Corps gave me an important window into why the work we do all year round is so important. Providing a safe space for our girls to transform from victims to survivors to leaders is an incredible opportunity and privilege; and it is the amplification of their voices that will ultimately end exploitation.