A gaggle of sixth-grade girls filled Green Acres Baptist Church’s 110 Student Center with sounds of laughter and enthusiastic yells on Saturday morning during the Junior League of Tyler’s “Fit and Fab” Girl Power event.
More than 250 sixth-grade girls from 14 Smith County middle schools attended the fitness-themed summit, which served to teach and promote healthy choices in the lives of young girls, Amy Pearson, event co-chairwoman, said.
She said the program encourages self-esteem, a positive self-image, strength and intelligence in sixth-grade girls.
“Specifically, this event is about being your best self, from the inside out,” she said. “It’s about being healthy — not necessarily about a number or a size, but about steps you can take in your own life to make yourself healthier.”
Girls heard from several speakers, such as Debbie Broughton from the Glass Recreation Center, who gave the girls a talk about true inner beauty and self-confidence.
They heard from coach Kimberly Harris, of Stewart Middle School, who gave some fitness tips, along with a demonstration.
They also received a lesson on nutrition from registered dietitian and Junior League member Monica Penkilo.
The girls then participated in a Zumba dance class, led by Veronica Holsomback, an instructor at 360 Fitness in Tyler.
Shannon Glanney, Junior League of Tyler president, said the girls learn a lot about leadership and taking care of one another.
She said many of the girls come because their respective school’s counselor identifies girls who could benefit from the reassurance from the event.
“We’ve gone through counselors — that’s really the connection to the kids. They help pinpoint girls that really need that encouragement,” she said. “Some of them (are chosen) because they’re shy or quiet; they need the encouragement to be strong. Some of them, because they’re on the other end — they’re on the edge of being bullies.”
Ms. Pearson also said it is crucial to teach girls about making healthy decisions and being confident at this age.
“Sixth grade is a challenging time. There’s a lot of peer pressure, a lot of bullying going on, and I think that’s when people start to develop a real sense of self.”
Meghan Goad, girls’ middle school minister at Green Acres Baptist Church, reinforced all of these points as the keynote speaker of the event.
Ms. Pearson said the event ties into the Junior League of Tyler’s goal of helping people in East Texas, which is also why the girls were asked to bring canned good donations for the East Texas Food Bank.
They were taught about the ETFB’s mission, along with its Backpack Program, which distributes backpacks with nutritious food to children during the weekends and school vacations.
“I don’t think it’s ever too early to start giving them an idea about doing community service,” she said. “A lot of girls in this program here today actually benefit from the Backpack Program from the East Texas Food Bank.”
Ms. Glenney said explaining the program to the group was beneficial.
“We have kids in this room that are part of that, that receive those backpacks on the weekends,” she said. “So some of them know exactly what need it’s meeting. There’s also a group of kids who have no idea that there are people that don’t have food and that their family is struggling to put food on the table.”
Ms. Glenney stressed the importance of good nutrition for children.
“If you can make healthy choices with food, you can often make healthy choices in your friendships and in your schoolwork,” she said. “We believe that if your body is healthy, then you can do better in school. … The big picture is healthy choices, not just food.”