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HAMMOND — Be Bold. Be Brave. Dream Big.

Those messages came through loud and clear for 75 tween/middle school girls during Saturday’s Real.Strong.Girls.: Strong Women for Strong Girls retreat at Purdue University Northwest hosted by Lake Area United Way.

Launched last year, the Real.Strong.Girls. initiative was formed to combat bullying; health issues including alcohol, drug and cigarette use; mental illnesses and suicide; as well as improve girls’ self-esteem, confidence and resiliency. Other sponsors included NIPSCO, Indiana American Water and Vanis Salon & Day Spa.

“You gotta dream big. Your vision is yours. Be brave, be bold, be gutsy,” said Marci Crozier of Omni Fitness Center during her “Guts & Grace Power Talk” that helped kick off the “Love Your Selfie!” event at the PNW Library and Student Union Building. “There is nothing better than sisterhood.”

Each of the girls received a purple bag filled with items such as a notebook to write down dreams for their future. Divided into purple, pink and grey pods, the girls attended three 40-minute sessions in classrooms and the auditorium from 10:25 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., then ended the day with a “Power Lunch” featuring speakers from NIPSCO, Mielle Organics, P&R Smart Media and U.S. Steel.

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“I’m from the same area as you. I’m no different than you. My dad is a steelworker. My mom worked at Merrillville High School,” said Brianna Cherise Hairlson, 27, a graduate of Howard University in Washington D.C.

“A dream is anything you want to see in your life,” said Hairlson before attendees wrote down their dreams and created “vision boards” with stickers and pictures taken from magazines. “You need the help of other people. Look around the room at these women. Find trusted individuals like these women to help you.”

Talitha Adams, 12, a sixth-grader at Hammond’s Scott Middle School, wrote in her dream book that she wants “to become a scientist, travel the world and attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

Eggers Middle School eighth-grader Jamika Brooks-James, 14, said she wants to become a doctor, specializing in internal medicine and “own the office” as well as “have enough money to go to college with no debt and learn French in two years.”

Another future physician, 12-year-old Layla Dunlap, a seventh-grader at Scott Middle School, said she wants to be a pediatrician because “I like working with kids. Also my grandma was a nurse.”

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