By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Feb 09, 2004 at 5:26 AM

{image1}If memory serves, being a teenager sucked. It was a constant roller coaster of low self-esteem, loneliness and poor choices. Apparently not much has changed in the past decade or two, because the United Way has identified teenaged girls, specifically those living in underserved areas, as a group deeply in need of programs to help them transition -- in a healthy way -- into womanhood.

Hence, the United Way, with the help of the Brico Fund, Johnson Controls, Aurora Health Care and community donations, started The Healthy Girl's Project, an initiative responsible for funding 16 programs last year, all of which promote positive health behaviors in young women.

"The project brings attention and focus to the fact that we as a community must address and support the health and well-being of all citizens in our community, in this case, girls," says Essie Allen, the director of community impact for the United Way. "It also enhances this community's ability to be a partner in assisting in the development and support of girls, who will grow up to be vibrant leaders, making healthy life choices and contributing to our community."

Thus far, the project has allocated $404,000 to girl-serving programs, offering one-time grants up to $30,000 each. This spring, the project will allocate another $300,000 and may narrow the focus of the project to concentrate on one or two issues affecting girls.

Both existing and start-up programs were awarded, and all of the programs in some way create safe space for girls, expand leadership skills, foster intergenerational relationships, respect girls' cultures and communities and/or provide girls with opportunities for community building work.

The Laugh Out Loud Program is one example. A collaborative between the International Clown Hall of Fame and the Wisconsin Community Services, the project serves delinquent girls ages 12 -17 and provides special trainings with a professional clown psychologist to help integrate the teaching of various psycho-educational topics through the clowning arts.

The United Community Center established a fitness and nutrition program, utilizing the new UCC Cesar Pabon Fitness Center to teach healthy habits to girls at an early age.

The Milwaukee Community Service Corp's "Hard-Hatted Women" project targets disadvantaged, ethnically diverse young women and helps them become employed in a skilled trade. Through this program, the women not only earn a good wage, but also acquire a driver's license, serve their community, obtain a high school equivalency diploma and prepare themselves for post-corps college or trade apprenticeships.

Other programs include the Hmong American Women's Association's "Teen Legacy Circle Project," Alverno College's "Girls in Charges," UMOS Latina Resource Center's "Expect Respect Teen Dating Violence Program," ARC Milwaukee's "Self Advocacy Academy," The Boys & Girls Clubs' "SMART Girls," Children's Outing Association's "Fit Fine & Fabulous," Discovery World's Milwaukee Girls Science Partnership's "Girls in Science and Technology After School Program," Danceworks' "Girls Express," Girl Scouts of Milwaukee Area's "2B Healthy," Northcott Neighborhood House's " Northcott Healthy Girls," Meta House's "Meta Girls," PEARLS for Teen Girls' "PEARLS" and African American Children’s Theatre, "Young Women Making it Happen."

Staggering statistics inspired the United Way to reach out to local girls, like the fact that 20.3 percent of births in Wisconsin are to teen girls, and more than 23 percent of ninth-grade girls reported smoking cigarettes within the past 30 days.

Also, girls in ninth through twelfth grade are significantly more likely than boys to have felt sad or hopeless, and 62.1 percent of ninth-grade girls reported that they have attempted to lose weight.

"There are various reasons why (so many) unhealthy teens reside in our city," says Allen. "Lack of guidance and education regarding health issues, lack of access to health care, teens living in unhealthy environments like poverty and the 'I won't get sick' or 'it won't happen to me attitude.'"

Last year, over 1,250 local girls were involved in the programs supported by the Healthy Girls Project and the numbers will continue to multiply in 2004.

"The most positive aspect of the project is the fact that it will reach a large number of girls in varying ways and degrees, and will contribute to long term positive results," says Allen. "The programs are diverse and focus on all aspects of health: physical, mental and emotional."

For more information, visit the United Way's Web site

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.