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Creative program helps girls grow stronger in Alabama’s Black Belt

Charmin Bates believes her calling is to help girls, like those in Alabama’s Black Belt region, learn to tap into their creativity and discover their self-worth.

“We understand that there’s a need to help these girls … build their self-esteem and confidence,” Bates said.

“It’s important for them to know as a young girl and as a woman that ‘I am beautiful, I am loved and I am fearfully and wonderfully made,’” Bates added, a reference to Psalm 139 in the Bible. “Whatever I can do to bless these girls and remind them who they are, that’s what I want to do.”

Bates, founder and executive director of Creative Girls Rock (CGR), led virtual health and wellness classes for about 150 girls in west Alabama focused on social and emotional learning and building confidence and self-esteem.

Based in Nashville, Tennessee, CGR is a nonprofit that grew out of Bates’ passion for creative arts, youth development and community engagement. Its goal is to empower young girls and women by encouraging them to use their talents in creative ways. The organization provides free programming to girls and women around the world, including 17 U.S. states and five countries – Canada, Mexico, Egypt, Australia and Japan.

“I want to help these girls and women around the world focus on something that they love to do,” Bates said. “And once you’ve completed it, that feeling of fulfillment that you get after it’s done, that brightens your day. That’s what we at Creative Girls Rock want to do for our girls.”

With support from the Alabama Power Foundation, CGR has offered its classes in the state’s Black Belt for the past two years.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to help enhance students in the Black Belt area,” said Danielle Kimbrough, community relations manager in Alabama Power’s Western Division. “The Creative Girls Rock program offered elementary and middle school girls tools and activities to help boost their personal development skills, while also providing a safe place for emotional and mental support. The program impacted these students in a special way, and we were proud to work with our schools on this initiative.”

Bates and her team led the CGR interactive master classes via Zoom for girls at U.S. Jones Elementary School in Demopolis, University Charter School in Livingston, Robert Brown Middle School in Eutaw and C.H.O.I.C.E. Uniontown, a community resource center that provides programs and activities for area youth.

The girls took part in workshops centered on goal-setting, problem-solving and conflict resolution; the fundamentals of how different colors affect emotions, human behavior and decision-making; and the use of rock painting to spread kindness and light to others. During this third workshop, the girls painted rocks with positive messages and were encouraged to plant them throughout the community, thus bringing a smile and a hopeful word to other people.

Butler said the classes continued to have an impact even after they ended. For instance, after one of the fifth-grade girls filled the pages of the goal-setting journal she received during the first workshop, she asked for another and used it on her own to continue “setting goals as she was taught.”

Jennifer Helms said the classes were also a huge success at U.S. Jones Elementary.

“The girls got really excited and looked forward to opening the Creative Girls Rock box each month, and enjoyed the craft they got to do,” said Helms, U.S. Jones Elementary fifth-grade social studies teacher. “More importantly, the girls really enjoyed getting together with just other girls each month and having time to bond.”

The Alabama Power Foundation provided funding to help pay for the CGR programming and materials needed to create the craft boxes for the girls.

“The Alabama Power Foundation believes in our mission to provide free programming to all girls,” Bates said. “It sees the need for girls in the Black Belt to build their self-confidence. Most of these girls don’t have the resources to buy journals, stickers and other materials. For your foundation to want to provide that support means a lot.”

In 2017, Bates and her team began offering free programming to underserved youth in the Nashville community focused on empowerment, creative expression, arts and crafts, artistic design and visual arts. Then, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced CGR to transition to virtual learning in 2021, it quickly grew, extending its reach to girls and women across the globe.

“I want to make sure all girls have the opportunity to tap into themselves, whether that’s through arts and crafts, songwriting, visual arts or photography,” Bates said, ‘and I want to be their resource for helping them reach those goals.”

To learn more about CGR, visit creativegirlsrock.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

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