Looking to have a positive impact on young girls before they hit the often turbulent high school years, the Z-Club of Jefferson City is hosting its first ever Girl Empowerment Day.
The event, set for 10 a.m.-2 p.m. April 4 at Memorial Park Pavilion, is geared toward girls in sixth through eighth grades and will include learning self-defense, nature survival skills and how to de-stress, among many other topics.
The Z-Club is a program from Zonta International, and is focused on providing opportunities for young women in high school to develop leadership skills, explore career options and improve international understanding through service projects, according to the Zonta website.
“It promotes advocacy and service to young women in the area,” said 16-year-old club member Madalynn Berkey. She added that club members assist many local organizations, such as HALO, and at local events, including the Yellow Rose Luncheon and the annual Mid-Missouri Heart Ball.
The local chapter started in the mid 1990s and is open to all high school students in the area, not just girls. Ramona Huckstep, club adviser, said that right now, the club is made up of mostly Helias girls, likely because the parochial school requires students complete service hours. But, she said she would like to see more girls from other area high schools get involved.
“We’re trying to get out to (Jefferson City High School) more,” she said, noting that the club has two members from JCHS.
The Z-Club has been active in promoting awareness of human trafficking for years, with the girls typically raising about $1,000 for the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition. Huckstep said that each year the club would invite Nanette Ward, a founding member of the coalition, to come and speak. But they found that though many people would express interest, few would actually attend.
“They like the idea of hearing about it, but not actually hearing about it. It’s kind of gory,” said 18-year-old club member Logan Huckstep, who is also the daughter of club adviser, Ramona Huckstep. “People don’t realize that it’s actually a real thing.”
Both Logan and Ramona Huckstep pointed to how large the issue of human trafficking is not only in the United States, but in Missouri. According to information from Polaris, a nonprofit organization that works to combat and prevent human trafficking, Missouri is in the top 15 states for reported human trafficking cases.
So this year, the club opted to hold the Girl Empowerment Day instead, with all proceeds going to benefit the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition.
“These traffickers … prey on insecurities and that’s where that building confidence with these sixth to eighth grade girls will help,” Ramona Huckstep said. “These girls have really done a lot for bringing girl empowerment to the forefront.”
That goal of building confidence is one reason why the group opted to target girls in sixth through eighth grades. As girls head into high school, it can often be a time of extreme insecurity. Ramona Huckstep described being at an open house representing the STEM (science, technology, math and engineering) club, and having many girls shy away the second they saw the word “math.”
“I don’t know how many eighth grade girls came up to me and said … ‘Oh math, I am not good at math,’” she said. “I said, ‘You don’t know what you’re good at or not.’ … By eighth grade, they’ve already determined ‘I’m not good at this.’ And that makes me very sad.”
By showing the younger girls examples of high school students who excel in those fields, Ramona Huckstep said, the Z-Club can help dispel some of that negative thinking.
Logan, a senior at Helias, is one of the few girls to have been involved in Z-Club all four years — that’s no coincidence, as her mother has been involved in advising the club for more than four years.
“I live with the person who talks about it all the time,” Logan said with a laugh.
Because of her history of involvement, she’s taken the lead as older members graduated and moved on. It’s what Ramona Huckstep would like to see more of.
“It was mostly senior girls, and we thought, ‘No, we’ve got to start getting the younger girls involved because those senior girls are leaving, you’ve got to start all over again,” Ramona Huckstep said.
She points to Madalynn as a great example of how the club should work. As Logan prepares to go to college in the fall, Madalynn, currently a junior at Helias, will be able to step into that leadership role and, hopefully, inspire others to follow her example.
Part of the reason behind targeting junior high girls for Girl Empowerment Day is precisely that recruitment focus. Ramona Huckstep said this will be a good way to get girls familiar with the Z-Club before they even hit high school.
“I’ve never seen an event that’s so tailored for girls before,” Madalynn said. “I’ve never been more excited about something in my high school career.”
Madalynn, who has taken a lead role in planning the event, said the topics involved have evolved over time. At first, she said, they considered a science corner and even a song writing aspect. Ultimately, they landed on what they thought would be the most practical for all and the most beneficial for those taking part, such as entrepreneurship, an idea Madalynn had after she took part in a leadership exercise that had those participating design a product and present it.
“It kind of helped out with public speaking and innovativeness,” Madalynn said. “It’s good for young girls to think about that, kind of embrace their creative side.”
Logan said she hopes the event will encourage young girls to trust themselves and not let anyone knock them down. But mostly, she said, she hopes it inspires them to become role models for future generations.
Ramona Huckstep said the whole event will be a learning experience for everyone, especially Madalynn who will be taking the lessons learned this year into planning and organizing the event next year, when she is a senior.
“I’m excited to see where Girl Empowerment Day goes in a couple of years,” Madalynn said. “I really hope that they’ll gain some confidence from this. … Hopefully, they can kind of carry the positive feelings they get from this into high school.”
Girl Empowerment Day
When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. April 4
Where: Memorial Park Pavilion
How much: Cost is $20. To attend, send checks made out to Z-Club of Jefferson City to:
Z-Club of Jefferson City
PO Box 106021
Jefferson City MO
Lunch is provided and attendees should dress for the outdoors.
All proceeds benefit the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition