PORTLAND — The Girls Advisory Board met on Sunday to discuss upcoming sessions for their 2020 Girls Rock! conferences.

Sunday’s group, which met at The Public Works in Portland, comprised of students from Waterville, Portland, Mount Desert Island, North Haven and Waterboro. The conferences planned will be presented to students between grades 4 and 8.

“(The girls) do their workshops twice at the conferences,” Sarah Lentz, program coordinator at Waterville’s Hardy Girls Health Women group. “There’s a lot of conversations happening today around gender, women in politics, activism and LGBT+.”

The Girls Advisory Board is made up of girls in high schools from around the state that work to plan events and programming to help create a world that fosters growth and development for girls. The group originated out of Waterville in 2005 and went statewide in 2013.

Students from Waterville Senior High School, including Jess Bazakas; a senior and Amna Sheikh; a junior, met with other members of the Girls Advisory Board to work on conference topics and planning.

Bazakas, who is co-president, has been a member of Hardy Girls Healthy Women since her freshman year, and says that the group has helped empower her to help others.

“I’ve really enjoyed my experience here and have learned a lot and have been given the tools to teach other people about things,” Bazakas said. “It’s really empowering.”

The Girls Advisory Board met on Sunday to discuss workshops for their 2020 Girls Rock! conferences, which is offered to students in grades 4-8. Morning Sentinel photo by Taylor Abbott 

Bazakas says that the groups today were working on women’s issues to address at their upcoming events while also focusing on diversity and making sure that everyone is involved.

“It’s important that all identities are included in women’s issues when we’re educating out communities,” Bazakas said. “I love being able to make young girls believe in themselves and to let them know that they can be anything and do anything they want.”

Sheikh says that her group is working on addressing the stigmas around mental health at the conferences and spent Sunday looking at ways to talk about it in healthy settings. Sheikh says she has always been into activism and began thinking about general equality issues when she was young.

“I think that our conferences are empowering. I went to some events when I was younger and am excited to be participating in the conferences now,” Sheikh says. “I chose mental health because it’s something that’s overlooked a lot and I think it should be talked about in a healthy environment,” Sheikh continued. “It’s important to me and I think right now is an important time to start the conversation so that people know that they are not alone.”

The Girls Rock! conferences will take place in Waterville on April 3, 2020 at Colby College, according to Lentz.

As part of their monthly meetings, the group congregated during the afternoon for a video call with an individual that talks to the students about their experiences within the field of communications. This month’s speaker was Julie Zeilinger, founder and editor of WMC FBomb, a feminist blog for teens and young adults.

Zeilinger says that she began identifying as a feminist before it had the traction that it sees today.

“At the time, it was a novelty to have a teen feminist back when I was in high school,” Zeilinger said. “My hope was to find maybe 10 teens that agreed with me because I felt isolated in my own community when I wanted to be having these conversations with other people.”

Zeilinger fielded questions from the group that included advice on picking universities, experience as a journalist and ways to combat internet comment sections.

“There was a period of time where I almost quit because of the comment section,” Zeilinger said. “I had a friend tell me that (the commenters) are writing to silence you. It’s hard and it can feel bad, but they’re trying to silence you, which means that what you’re saying is important.”


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