NEOPIT - Being a teen or a "tween" isn't always easy, but a nationwide program is aiming to help - particularly girls and young women.
It's called SMART Girls and is offered at Boys & Girls Clubs across the country. It helps girls ages 8 to 17 develop healthy lifestyles, boost their self-confidence and become role models.
About a dozen girls in the small community of Neopit, on the Menominee Indian Reservation, are enrolled in the program at the Woodland Boys & Girls Club.
The girls come from surrounding communities to meet at the club several times a week, after school. Activities include cooking, art and field trips. Recently, they visited Globe University in Green Bay to learn about different career opportunities.
"We help them reach their goals," said Tonya Pocan, program director of the SMART Girls program in Neopit. "We make sure they have a wide variety of options besides what's offered in the immediate area."
Some days are dedicated to helping the girls work through personal matters. Mercedes Hernandez, a fifth-grader at Keshena Primary School, says her grades have gone up since joining SMART Girls three years ago.
"Last semester, I got Academic Achievement," said Hernandez. "So, I got As and Bs."
Hernandez's mom says SMART Girls also helped her work through bullying issues at school.
"She's doing a lot, lot better this year," said Shelia Shawanokasic.
The existence of the SMART Girls program in Menominee County may be more important to some. The county has some of the highest poverty, teen pregnancy and crime rates in the state. Click here to see the results of the study done in part, by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
SMART Girls in Neopit is hoping to make a difference by educating girls on how to prevent becoming a part of those statistics and find success.
To find a Boys & Girls Club nearest you and to learn more about the programs offered, click here.
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