The Power of High School Girls

“If you want to live a good life, then you need to do good things.”

Jessenia gathers around the table with her family at least once a week to talk through their lives. But if the 15-year-old has something she doesn’t want to bring to her parents, she can go to the Young Women’s Resource Center (YWRC).

Jessenia, a high school freshman, has been attending Empowerment workshops at YWRC since fifth grade. The weekly after-school groups, funded by United Way, provide a nonjudgmental space to build supportive relationships. They prioritize social connections, self-esteem, and self-control during an especially vulnerable time in young women’s lives.

From the workshops, Jessenia has learned how to deal with judgement about her two moms and with the hateful rhetoric she hears in the media about Latinos like herself.
“I don’t find any reason for hate,” she says. “We’re all living in this life. Everybody is different. Don’t hate them for being them.”

Jessenia’s family embodies love. They are United Way donors, and they volunteer at a homeless shelter. They’ve welcomed extended family members in need into their home—children Jessenia calls her siblings.

In the hectic first year of high school, Jessenia copes with peer pressure and stress using techniques she learned at YWRC: deep breathing, meditation, and reading poetry.

“With stress, you’re either going to box it in or you’re going to have someone to turn to,” she explains.

At a time when more central Iowans report feeling daily stress and fewer agree they have someone who encourages them to be healthy than last year, Jessenia is a stand-out example of well-being.

She plans to graduate high school with good grades and attend college. Jessenia already scores high on another indicator of well-being: sense of purpose.

“If you want to live a good life,” she says, “then you need to do good things.”


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