Patricia Love, grandmother to 12-year-old Amaris Johnson and 4-year-old Ariel Johnson, beamed with pride as she watched her granddaughters learn routines, speeches and chants they’ll perform next month at the Young Girls With Purpose’s annual I Am a Rose Scholarship Pageant.
About 16 girls, ranging from age 4 to 16, practiced walking while holding a “pageant stance,” smiling and reciting a brief biography on Tuesday evening outside of the Glass Recreation Center.
Amaris, who lives with her mother in Dallas, returns every summer to participate. The Tuesday meeting was Ariel’s introduction to the group.
“The more my grandbaby practices, the more she’s going to get this,” Mrs. Love noted.
The pageant began in 2008 as another way to celebrate young girls, but the group formed in 2002.
That’s when music teacher Debbie Broughton jotted down some ideas about a girls’ group that would include character development and the reinforcement of positive self-image and self-esteem. In 2005 she hosted a retreat to provide these tools so local girls could mature into confident young women.
“The retreat was centered around, ‘I can be. Celebrate me,’” Mrs. Broughton said.
“I really didn’t have an idea that this was going to continue. From that retreat was actually the birth of a once a month community mentoring group for girls.”
Years later, more than 40 girls participate in activities, meetings and workshops that teach the importance of health, intellect, purpose and beauty.
Mrs. Broughton also challenges the girls to dream big, set goals and excel in academics.
‘AN ACCEPTANCE GROUP’
Young Girls with Purpose is a way to involve girls of all backgrounds with no exclusions, Mrs. Broughton said.
“It’s to actually focus in on a girl just for who she is, regardless of her environment, regardless of where she comes from, or what her disadvantage was,” she said. “We all want to be accepted. This is an acceptance group.”
Mrs. Broughton, 53, calls her work with the girls God-inspired, which came years after her journey to lose about 100 pounds. She’s taught a gospel aerobics class at the center for more than 10 years.
“All of this really came from that big lady, if you go back to the weight loss lady,” she said. “From the weight loss lady is where all of these treasures and gifts were exposed for others.”
Inspiration also comes from a biblical scripture.
“Our scripture is Isaiah 35 and 2,” she said. “And all of the girls know the scripture. It talks about the girls growing like a rose. It means, maybe an environment that is not so great — you know everyone is not raised like Leave it to Beaver — but you are still a rose and you are blossoming and you are growing. God is rejoicing. The heavens rejoice over you as you blossom and as you grow.”
Mrs. Broughton balances the time she spends with the girls with gospel aerobics, teaching and her personal life. She maintains that balance through prayer and the help of other moms.
“It’s purpose with passion,” she said. “It’s purpose with balance. It all comes from me knowing what the plan of God is … It’s not just me. I couldn’t do all that.”
While the girls perform at the pageant and must learn proper etiquette, it’s not a competition, Mrs. Broughton said. Proceeds benefit scholarships for graduating seniors. In addition, every girl gets a trophy, a sash and a gift bag.
Amaris has participated in the group for about four years. She said she’s learned how to “be a lady … to just be elegant.”
Kiera Hawkins, 16, has been a member since third grade. As one of the older girls, she’s a leader who helps steer younger girls in the right direction.
“I like that there’s a variety of girls with different dreams and different goals,” she said.
The Robert E. Lee High School junior said the group has helped her gain confidence and set goals. She loves public speaking and plans to study to journalism at Texas A&M University and minor in theater.
“I’ve known what I’ve wanted to do since the third grade,” Kiera said.
While she said being a teen today isn’t easy, she believes regular encouragement and support, like what they receive in the group, can make a difference.
“I feel like you have to learn to be yourself,” she said. “Don’t let anybody make you want to be somebody that you’re not. Just be confident in who you are as a person.”
Mrs. Broughton wants to broaden the organization to reach girls beyond Tyler. Parents and grandparents like Mrs. Love believe the group already has had a positive impact on lives so far.
“It’s helping them to focus on some of the things that are important in life,” Mrs. Love said. “Ms. Debbie is a wonderful person because she’s concerned about our young girls and getting them on the right track.”