Middle school is a new, exciting time for students, but it also comes with challenges.
Two Nebraska Wesleyan University graduates recently launched a project to help make the transition to middle school smoother.
"We felt that a program like the YWCP would have been so beneficial to us when we were that age, facing many new, exciting, and challenging times during these years," said Rebecca Brune ('14).
During her senior year at Nebraska Wesleyan, Brune and her classmate Alex Langley ('14) developed the Young Women's Circles Program (YWCP) in an effort to bring together middle school girls from diverse backgrounds to address issues of gender inequality, leadership, empowerment, and social and gender norms. Brune and Langley wanted to provide young women with a sense of power, and a safe space to identify and execute that power.
The two NWU students developed the idea as part of a national conference - Clinton Global Initiative University, which brings together college students from across the country to further engage in some of today's most pressing global issues. Participants are required to develop a Commitment to Action, or a solution that addresses a challenge on students' campus or local community.
Of the 700 Commitments to Action that were introduced at the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative University, only 16 were funded including Brune and Langley's program.
"We know that young women are inherently powerful and we created the YWCP to bring together middle school girls from across Lincoln to grow them as leaders empowered to be our current and future change makers." Brune said.
Upon graduating from NWU Langley landed a job in Washington D.C. That's when fellow classmate and friend Kelsey Arends ('14) stepped in to help. Brune and Arends spent the next year preparing the program's curriculum. To better prepare for the implementation of the program, Arends and Brune sought advice from partners YWCA, Nebraskans for Civic Reform, and the Resolution Project on appealing to young leaders.
In June, 12 girls in grades six through eight joined the Young Women's Circles Program and spent a week on Nebraska Wesleyan University's campus to discuss their lives, relationships with others, and goals for the future. The week-long dialogues helped participants gain a better sense of self and better understand the varying cultural backgrounds in the Lincoln community.
The experience was equally rewarding and enlightening for Arends and Brune.
"We have been thrilled to work closely with such an inspiring group of wonderful young women and look forward to working with many more as the YWCP grows," said Arends. "We are both passionate about addressing the issue of gender inequality and investing our time to help amplify the voices of these future leaders."
Arends and Brune plan to continue the program and hope to expand across Lincoln and into Omaha.
"We are excited for the growth of this program as we believe it addresses a strong need in our communities and is a program that can be easily replicated and expanded, while maintaining the safe and empowering culture that the YWCP is based on," Brune said.
The experiences with YWCP have aided Arends and Brune in their current work. Arends — who earned degrees in political science and Spanish — now works at the Nebraska Civic Reform as the director of operations and special programs. Brune earned degrees in social work and gender studies and is now a child welfare program associate for Nebraska Appleseed.