By Katrina Sousounis
Throughout the past year, Girl Up has accomplished some incredible things, and I am so grateful to have been a part of it all. Looking back, we really have come a long way this year and I know that with the new year, even more incredible are yet to come. As a group of young advocates, we should all be extremely proud of the things we did this year. I have been able to witness some incredible people do incredible things, and been fortunate enough to be a part of some pretty great things this year as well.
1) Girl Up Global 5K Run
The Boston Coalition 5K run is definitely on my top 5 favorite moments from this year. This past March, we participated in the Girl Up Global 5K to raise money for girls in Rajasthan, India to go to a leadership training program. This event not only taught me team building skills, but really showed us all that something seemingly localized could have such a global impact. We ended up raising $1,666 for these girls, and the thing I remember most from that day was just coming away from it with a glowing sense of pride and determination that we had done something good, and we were making a difference a few girls at a time.
2) 2016 Leadership Summit
This past summer I attended my 5th Annual Girl Up Leadership Summit. I walked away with even more of a sense of purpose, determination, and more confident than ever. I remember the first day I walked into the building. I had gotten there a little early and helped to set up the name tags. I was talking with some of the girls whose first time it was attending the conference, and they all had this sense of excitement and determination about them.
They reminded me of myself at my first conference and it was really amazing to realize how far I have come since then, and to see so many new supporters for the campaign. They were so full of spirit that just being in a room of 300 other girls like them, I felt more empowered already. After every conference, I am able to look back and see the amazing amount of progress we have made each year, but this year was really special to me to see such a big change in the number of supporters we have gained.
3) Introducing New Legislation
In 2015, we passed the Girls Count Act. This year, we introduced a new piece of legislation, the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education In Vulnerable Settings Act. When I heard we had new legislation in congress, I had a flashback to the Girls Count Act: years of lobbying on Capitol Hill, phone calls to congress, the thousands of girls across the country that made it happen. And I had one thought in my head…bring it on.
That first day it was introduced was the day before we stormed the Capitol. On lobby day, our group really bonded, and probably my favorite moment from then was our meeting with Elizabeth Warren and her staffers because they remembered our group from the previous year. That was what really stuck with me because it proves to anyone who thinks teenage girls aren’t capable of making an impact that we are. And we do, everyday.
4) In-District Meetings
After the summer, the advocacy didn’t stop. I went back to my club and went right to work. The thing I love most about Girl Up is that it’s important all year. Not only in the summer at a national level, but with my community and friends who have supported this cause for anywhere from four years to a few months. Preparing for our first in person meeting took a lot of work, but having girls who had only been in the club for a month or two be able to communicate their concerns for refugee children, and speak so eloquently about legislation that many adults can’t understand after putting in the work, was amazing.
For them to be so dedicated to Girl Up, and practice so much for our meeting really made me proud. I had only given them the resources, but they just took it into their own hands and ran with the opportunity. Even though I have never seen first hand the effects of education for girls in developing countries, I have read stories, and I can say that I have personally seen that if there is a common goal, given the resources, girls can make real change. The process of preparing for this meeting was as important as the meeting itself. After all the preparing and practicing, many girls from my club walked away saying they were surprised that the meeting had gone so well, and that our congresswoman listened so well. I said that I wasn’t surprised, because I knew that they were all completely capable and powerful enough to create the change they wanted to see.
5) Becoming a Teen Advisor
Truly, the best moment for me this year was hearing that I was going to be part of this years class of Teen Advisors. I got a phone call on April 26th, and I wasn’t really sure who it was. I was in our school library and ducked outside to take the call. After I heard that after all these years I was going to get a chance to be a Teen Advisor, I tried to hang up as professionally as I could. What many people don’t know is what happened after. I started jumping up and down in the hallway right next to a window in the library, and about twenty people had looked up to watch me. I finally calmed down and walked in. There was such a wide smile on my face and a bounce in my step that I couldn’t contain my childish excitement. But I didn’t care. I got this amazing opportunity, and I was going to make the most of it for sure. I walked up the hill to the middle school to meet up with my brothers, and it was a little windy. My hair was everywhere and I was playing pump up music in my head because it felt like a scene from a movie where the main character just has everything going right for them. The phone call also came on April 26, the day before my birthday. I am so humbled to be part of this year’s amazing group of girls, they are all so amazing. I am inspired everyday by them to keep doing what I love, and automatically connecting with them through our love of Girl Up has been one of my most favorite moments of 2016 hands down. Becoming Teen Advisor was the best moment and the best birthday present I could have asked for.
Katrina Sousounis is a 2016-2017 Girl Up Teen Advisor from Massachusetts.
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