As the young woman sat down in front of the microphone, her face and neck flushed. She shared with the dozen or so teenage members of Girls Night In that she felt nervous. That until this evening, she had never told anyone about parts of her earlier life that now affect all of her life.
Part of her story began with being molested as a child and raped as a teenager then lost for several years in a blur of toxic and abusive relationships with two young children to raise alone.
Thankfully, her story has drastically changed. She has discovered self-love. She has a much better understanding about healthy relationships. She knows that she deserves to set limits and demand respect. And she knows that she is unique and worthy exactly as she is.
Following the heartfelt speech, the members of this Greenwood area group split into small groups with adult female volunteers. They sat in a circle to discuss how they felt about and related to their guest speaker’s story.
Some of the teens, like Emily Fletcher, 17, initially attended the group with a friend.
“We were both kind of struggling at the time,” Fletcher said. “We wanted support for each other.”
She didn’t plan to attend the group for very long, Fletcher said.
But one year later, she still attends and still listens closely to feedback offered by adult female mentors.
“They give really good advice,” Fletcher said of the GNI mentors. “They have taught me how to love myself.”
Other young women like Fletcher need a safe place where they can talk and ask questions without fear of being laughed at or talked about later behind their backs.
At the front of the room is Brandy Vanderveen, the woman who launched this area chapter of Girls Night In, and taught them all to understand and respect words like trust, honesty and confidentiality.
For quite a while, Vanderveen, who can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the group, looked for a volunteer opportunity to work with young females. Nothing felt exactly right until she was introduced to Girls Night In, she said.
A Brownsburg High School teacher named JimmeLynn Rice started GNI for her many female students who needed a safe place to be heard. Expecting maybe a dozen girls to show up, Rice opened the basement of her home for the new group and was overwhelmed when 50 girls crowded inside at the first meeting.
A 2011 story on the radio about Rice and Girls Night In provided international exposure.
Today, 17 different area high schools host GNI groups. Fifteen other states and Argentina, too, commit to the importance of providing Girls Night In for their young teens.
Each monthly meeting is structured to include a guest speaker followed by a small group discussion.
Because young females face serious issues like physically abusive relationships with boyfriends, destructive experiences with female peers, drug and alcohol abuse and sexual acting out, GNI is a serious place where support is treasured and trust is cherished.
“I love all of these girls,” Vanderveen said.