LEOMINSTER — Charisse Murphy’s human services career has always seen her going to where the demand to help young women is high.
By working with organizations like YOU, Inc. or LUK, she’s been able to help girls in and around Worcester and Fitchburg, but it wasn’t until she started to consider what resources were available in her own community that she decided to do something completely new.
“I had all this training, all this education, and I live in Ayer, where, in that particular part of the state, there really aren’t that many human services,” she said. “I felt like I was helping all these young people, but not the young people I was living near.”
The solution she came up with was EmPOWER ME, a free two month curriculum for building self-confidence in girls in middle and high school. It’s been two years since Murphy came up with the idea and it’s grown to the point that she’s now partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster to offer her program to kids in the Twin Cities area.
“It’s actually cool to see that this has now become a thing,” Murphy said. “I’ll drive down a street in Ayer or Shirley now and I’ll see girls wearing EmPOWER ME shirts and I’ll be saying ‘Oh, look! Those girls are wearing our shirts. It’s a thing!'”
When she started out two years ago, Murphy was just working with a handful of fifth grade girls at Page Hilltop Elementary School in Ayer. Since then, the program has seen roughly 65 girls complete the curriculum and expanded into multiple schools.
The course tends to last eight to 10 weeks, featuring activities and conversations that are built around overarching themes like team building, self-acceptance, or healthy life style choices, depending on the age group being worked with.
Above all, Murphy explained that she hopes to create a safe space where girls can feel comfortable sharing details about their lives.
The success of EmPOWER ME in Ayer has since attracted the attention of the Boys & Girls Club in Leominster, where Murphy held her first official meeting last week.
“The difficult thing with it is there are just so many girls,” she said. “There must have been 75 or 80 the other night and they were from 5th grade to senior in high school.”
Which is why Murphy hopes her volunteer work will inspire other area residents to want to get involved. Though they’d need to be trained in how the program’s curriculum works, Murphy said she would hope that other volunteers would be able to facilitate at the Boys & Girls Club or in local schools in the future.
Given the current prevalence of sexual assault in the media and the dialogues it has prompted, Murphy admits that the work has taken on more importance.
“At the Boys & Girls Club the other night, we might not have gotten into what we’re seeing on the news, but the girls did start talking about their experiences and feeling shunned for being a girl and I think that does filter into what we’re seeing now,” she said. “If you’re faced with this, how do you handle it? I think having this safe space is where we have that conversation.”