When Lake Area United Way kicked off their Real. Strong. Girls. initiative in 2017, they did so by partnering with Scott Middle School in Hammond to provide their female students with opportunities to partake in volunteer activities during spring break and attend a half day retreat.

The girls had such a great time that they started their own Real. Strong. Girls Club at the school.

Real. Strong. Girls. is an initiative of Lake Area United Way that focuses on recognizing the strength and leadership capabilities of girls in Lake County, and providing them the support and resources that develop that potential.

The club at Scott Middle School now partners with Lake Area United Way to bring in volunteers and speakers once a month to present on pressing issues concerning middle school girls.

United Way also assists in setting up volunteer projects and other field trips for the club, the first taking place on Dec. 18 at Tradewinds Services Inc. in Merrillville.

Eight girls from the club visited Tradewinds to volunteer in their child care facility.

The girls helped the day care students make and wrap Christmas presents for their parents as well as assist with regular daily activities like story time and playing in the gym.

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“It’s great to have the girls involved with the organization and learning about what we do and about the need in the community,” said Lisa Tatina, Director of Development and Marketing for Tradewinds. “It’s also great for our day care students to get to interact with the older kids.”

Tradewinds Services Inc. provides services for children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities.

“I like participating in Real. Strong. Girls. because we get to help the community,” says eighth-grader Brittany Jenks who attended all of the spring break projects, the retreat, and is now part of the club. “People should get involved because it’s really fun and you’re helping out. My favorite thing we’ve done so far is helping out at Tradewinds. I love kids so I really like helping out with the younger kids.”

The club wouldn’t be possible without the support of the teachers and staff, particularly principal Colleen Bergren, who has become a key supporter of Real. Strong. Girls.

“Real. Strong. Girls. has allowed our students to learn the value of volunteerism and explore various career options,” Bergren said.

“We’re very excited to be able to partner with the girls at Scott Middle School and help them develop the skills they need to grow into strong, successful women,” said Lake Area United Way President and CEO Lisa Daugherty. “We’re especially excited about being able to do service projects and field trips with the girls because it gives them a chance to experience things outside of the classroom that they might not otherwise have the chance.”