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Hardy Girls Healthy Women empowers girls to speak up and change the world

When the cofounders of Hardy Girls Healthy Women—Karen Heck, Lynn Cole and Dr. Lyn Mikel Brown—hosted the first Girls Rock! Event in 1999, they had no idea of what it would become and how many girls it would empower to speak up about a society that is wronging them, says Kelli McCannell, executive director.

Hardy Girls Healthy Women focuses on putting the power in girls’ hands by showing them how to stand up in an environment that denies them. The three founders held the first conference and planned to end it there, McCannell says, but the enthusiasm from the local community pushed them into continuing. In 2001, with the help of founding mothers and by applying for grants, Hardy Girls Healthy Women became a functioning organization.

Girls Rock! Conferences take place annually and are entirely planned and executed by the high schoolers on the Hardy Girls Healthy Women Girls Advisory Board. Photo by Sadie Johnson-Ouillette, Hardy Girls Healthy Women
Girls Advisory Board member

The Girls Rock! conference is now an annual event that showcases the work that the girls involved with Hardy Girls Healthy Women do throughout the year. The organization has flourished over the last 18 years and now has a storefront in Waterville. The organization consists of many programs that teach and empower girls.

Probably the most notable way that Hardy Girls Healthy Women is changing the game is that the whole curriculum is not only taught by, but also developed by girls. The founders wanted the programs to be approachable and interactive, and girls teaching girls just felt more authentic. Multiple other programs have developed off the initial conference, like the girls advisory board, or “GAB,” which is open to high school girls who wish to make a change; a girls coalition for middle school girls focusing on how females are portrayed in the media, education issues and other topics; a program for college-age “muses” from Colby College, who train and facilitate programs for younger girls; and lastly, workshops for adults that focus on how to support and acknowledge the issues that girls face while they are growing up and how to create an environment for them to develop fully and heartily.

A speaker at the Girls Rock! Conference. Photo by Sadie Johnson-Ouillette, Hardy Girls Healthy Women
Girls Advisory Board member

McCannell notes that, while other girls organizations’ focus on remaining strong, especially through teenage years, is important, Hardy Girls Healthy Women specifically targets the sometimes toxic environment that girls are placed in and expected to thrive in. Their mission is to teach girls how to have the courage to stand up and change it.

“Girls are taught to shrink themselves,” McCannell says, and one of the main purposes of Hardy Girls Healthy Women is to identify with the girls. Not everything can be fixed tomorrow, but if girls have someone to say “you’re not the crazy one,” it can make a huge difference and spark the courage to do things differently. And since girls run the events and workshops, and other girls see that, it gives a sense of power to the situation and gets more responses and active listening out of the conversation.

Girl power does not even begin to describe the objective of the organization. “(I’ve) always been interested in treating people as people” McCannell states, and that includes all children as well. When asked about raising three sons and working with girls, McCannell says that it is just as important for young boys to see strong female leaders as it is for girls to see them. Critical thinking is encouraged, and including youth in decisions is important because they understand more than they are given credit. That is why there is both a high school girl and a college girl on the Hardy Girls Healthy Women board of directors who get an equal vote on every matter, from event location to management and budget. The objective of all of this is to give girls a voice and make them feel that what they say matters, because it does.

Exciting developments are on the horizon for Hardy Girls Healthy Women. The annual conference is being expanded to be bi-annual and in two locations: Lewiston-Portland and Waterville-Bangor. With the undertaking of more events, Hardy Girls Healthy Women also hopes to have more girl volunteers both on the high school and collegiate level. But one thing is for sure, Hardy Girls Healthy Women will always create a space where “girls cause a ruckus.”

Bailey Hamm

Bailey Hamm is 15 and a freshman attending The Maine Girls’ Academy, hailing from North Yarmouth and Portland, Maine. She is an aspiring journalist and was recently accepted into The School of The New York Times Journalism Camp, which she will be attending this summer. When she is not writing, she loves reading and being outside, and she is active in both the Drama Club and Select Choir at her school, so it goes without saying that she loves being creative and loud. She is also involved in school sports and other clubs. Bailey is always willing to lend a hand and volunteers whenever she can.

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