Teeming with kids of all ages, even through the summer, Jack Lowe Elementary School in central Dallas is a lively place. It’s where founder and managing director of the Vickery Meadow Summer Reading Academy Dalene Buhl comes each morning to oversee unique programs in English language phonics, reading, and writing, with extracurricular nutrition, music, PE, tap dance, and art.
New on her roster this year: GAIA for Girls. With great enthusiasm, she supervises nine girls, grades 7 through 10, in our jewelry-making venture and lives up to her unofficial title of 'Chief Optimist'. Buhl and her colleague Gail Stoke were instrumental in helping us create the GAIA program intended to empower girls and their mothers to help their families, and Buhl beams when she talks about the potential long-term impact on the young students. The program not only provides income for the girls and their families, she says, but it also stimulates their creativity, builds their confidence, teaches them about business from inception to production and beyond, and plants seeds of curiosity and independent determination for their futures. Talk with the girls and you can almost see those seeds sprouting.
In some ways, these teenagers are very typical. In one moment, they giggle shyly; in another, they boldly offer their opinions. Like other teenage girls, they enjoy television, sports, music, and their friends. But in other very significant ways, they are unlike many teenagers you know. Their hardships can be difficult to fathom. Some come from families who live on less than $800 per month (let that sink in for a moment). Others have parents who are disabled, ill, or have died. Yet despite their burdens, these girls have strong spirits and palpable ambition. That’s how they ended up in the program in the first place: They felt frustrated by their families’ situations and determined to find a way to help.
The girls say that working together, designing and crafting text bracelets for GAIA for Girls has not only been good for their families, but it’s also strengthened their friendships and given them the satisfaction of making something beautiful. There’s a lot to love in this little group. Says 13-year-old Norhafizah, whose family immigrated to the United States from Malyasia: “We have talents that are rare in the world! We are uniquely awesome!”
Below, you can get to know a few of these sweet girls a bit better.
Home country: Myanmar
Loves: Reading, dancing, sleeping, and watching cartoons
Goals: To be a doctor, travel the world, and live a happy life
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “Designing and crafting the bracelets!”
Home country: Myanmar
Loves: Cooking, sewing, singing, dancing, and reading
Goals: To become a doctor in order to help others
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “I like that [my sister, Emmanuel, and I] are helping our parents.”
Home country: Thailand
Loves: Playing soccer and the violin
Goals: To be successful in and outside of school; to be a leader in my family
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “Being creative and making something beautiful is a good way show your true colors.”
Home country: Burma
Loves: Watching K-pop, singing, and dancing
Goals: To become a doctor and help others
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “Helping my parents with the finances. This is a good opportunity to learn and earn money.”
Home country: Malaysia
Loves: Playing badminton, swimming, exercising, dancing, singing, and eating
Goals: To go to college and get a good job after
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “Because I often like to waste my time watching movies and eating and playing and sleeping, this is good for me. I like being creative, and this keeps me active.”
Home country: United States (first generation)
Loves: Listening to music, playing the piano, doing crafts, and helping in school Goals: To go to college and eventually own a business
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “As far back as third grade, I was designing bracelets and selling them to friends at school, so I am really excited to make it an actual job.”