Girls Circle gives lessons on life and giving back

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Girls Circle members recently collected food, clothing and other items and donated them to Latimer House, which aids victims of domestic abuse.

Fifteen middle and high school girls meet weekly at Riverside Educational Center to learn about the tough decisions people sometimes have to make.

The girls are members of Girls Circle, a nationwide group that educates girls and young women about sex, drugs and alcohol, abuse and family issues. The group discusses all of these issues and how to tackle sticky situations if they arise.

The idea is to prepare girls to make informed decisions as they grow up, said group leader Esmeralda Martinez.

“Hopefully, they won’t have to go through” some of the tougher situations discussed, such as domestic abuse and teen pregnancy, Martinez said. “But it can help them make better choices.”

The group also has a community service component. In December, the group worked on its first big project since Girls Circle began meeting one year ago at the education center. The girls asked their school principals if they could place collection boxes for donations to Latimer House at the schools and asked their classmates to donate food, clothing and other items needed by victims of domestic abuse who seek refuge through Latimer.

Latimer House Case Manager Renee Patterson said the donations, which the girls delivered Dec. 23, will help Latimer through the winter.

“It’s a great community service they’re doing, and it’s also good for them to learn about people in need,” Patterson said.

Girls Circle member Gabriela Martinez, 11, said she learned a lot from the experience.

“Sometimes we don’t think about what we have that they don’t, and it feels good to give back,” she said.

The five group members who delivered donations to Latimer House all nodded when asked if Girls Circle makes them feel stronger and more informed in their opinions and actions.

Gabriela Martinez said she has learned coping skills from the program. Fourteen-year-old Maribel Ramirez said she has learned to hold off on some actions until she is an adult and to avoid other things, such as drugs, altogether.

“There are consequences you have to pay after you do those things,” she said.

Eleven-year-old Itzel Saenz said she is glad she’s learning lessons early from the group.

“Because then I won’t do them,” she said of making wrong choices.

Next semester, the group plans to learn about being a good family member and setting an example for younger siblings, to help with a neighborhood clean-up project in the Riverside neighborhood, and to host a Zumba-thon as a fundraiser for a day trip students can take if they get good grades.

The group is free to join and has a male counterpart at the education center called Boys Council.

Anyone interested in joining either group can call Riverside Educational Center Co-Director Mary Gonzales at 433-0481 or go to for information.


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