Real. Strong. Girls., a women’s affinity group of Lake Area United Way, is hosting a “Love Your #Selfie Retreat” for 100 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade girls from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 1. The girls from Lake County will join 50 strong, inspirational, and motivational women from across our communities at Purdue Northwest's Hammond campus.

The day will consist of powerful speakers, fun, interactive activities, and a lot of inspirational stories.

The breakout sessions for the day center around three main themes, Dream Big (focusing on your future and building a vision for the life you want), Be Bold (standing up for yourself and for others), and Be Brave (dealing with the stressors of today, your mental health and developing a positive self-image).

As reported by faculty at one of our local schools, one of the biggest challenges they deal with during the school day is the fact that teenage and preteen girls do not have the appropriate skill set to stop, think and respond to a situation versus immediately reacting, often resulting in explosive behavior.

During the retreat, the girls will learn skills and be given opportunities to practice being mindful in a variety of situations, and thinking through the best responses to different circumstances.

Along with a new set of skills to help them handle their everyday stressors, each attendant will leave with a wonderful guidebook that links them to resources throughout Lake County to help them work through many challenges they may encounter, and some pretty cool Real. Strong. Girls. swag.

Real. Strong. Girls. outreach also includes a Week of Service during the School City of Hammond spring break. From March 27 to March 30, 15 girls will volunteer at various locations throughout Lake County, including Tradewinds Services, Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, YMCA: Griffith, and Marquette Beach.

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On March 31, 15 girls will get the opportunity to explore the Power of Technology at Purdue Northwest.

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The Week of Service was designed to give local girls an alternative spring break experience and give them the understanding of how they can make a difference where they live and go to school.

Girls under age 18 make up about 13 percent of Lake County's population, although they often go unnoticed. Our communities have numerous ways of empowering and engaging young professionals, boys and men in various forms, mommy groups and female professionals. But this large population of young girls is often overlooked, resulting in some eye-opening statistics.

While the number of teens giving birth in Lake County has decreased by 11 percent in the last three years, there have been terrifying increases in dangerous and risky behavior by teen girls in our communities. In comparison to young girls across the nation, Lake County girls report a higher use of drugs and alcohol, higher instances of being bullied, higher instances of being in sexually and/or physically abusive relationships, have a higher likelihood of unhealthy eating habits resulting in being overweight or obese, and higher rates of self-harm and/or suicidal thoughts. These young girls are the future of this county and our country, and these statistics are not acceptable.

After reviewing these alarming data, the Women’s Affinity Group of Lake Area United Way launched their new initiative, Real. Strong. Girls. This initiative has a vision of a community that recognizes girls’ strengths and leadership capabilities and intentionally works to develop that potential. Over the last six months, Real. Strong. Girls. has convened, conversed, and conducted research to determine how they might be able to best impact the girls in Lake County. With that, the Real. Strong. Girls. Love Your #Selfie Retreat was born.

If you are interested in learning more about the Real. Strong. Girls. movement, call the Lake Area United Way office at 219-923-2302, or email info@lauw.org with the subject line Real. Strong. Girls.

Brandi Adams is Lake Area United Way relationship manager. The opinions are the writer's.