The pre-teen girls are in high spirits after their late-afternoon snack as they quickly fill up two activity tables and part of another in a small meeting room in the William C. Baird Boys & Girls Club on Bailey Avenue.
They’re here for Pretty as a Daisy, a mentoring program that aims to give them guidance and support at this junction between childhood and adolescence and to build their capacities for self-expression and self-esteem.
One of the girls admires mentor Stephanie Peete’s big silver hoop earrings, and Peete, who has a passion for fashion, passes one over for a closer look. Marilyn Gibson, the mentor in charge of Pretty as a Daisy, determines that everyone’s there and tells them to all hold hands for the prayer.
Then she passes out black-covered notebooks to her chattering charges. No pencils? No problem. The third mentor, Jackie Brown, gets some from the club’s office, and soon the girls are writing down lists of what they’re grateful for.
Then comes the hard part. They have to stand up and read them in front of the group.
After that, the mentors spread out a bunch of red felt Christmas stockings for the group to decorate with decals and shiny, glittery goo.
The stockings, the glittery goo, the cupcakes – the money for these all comes from the mentors themselves. They have no outside support for their programs – Pretty as a Daisy and Beauty Mark, the session for high schoolers that immediately follows. The mentors started the programs as an outgrowth of their involvement with WAVE, Women Against Violence Everywhere.
“For girls, the culture’s the problem,” says Gibson, an auditor for the Internal Revenue Service who served in the Army in the Gulf War. “Girls are getting more violent, and there are more young girls in gangs. I think a lot of people underestimate how effective mentoring can be to help them.”
For Peete, who graduated from Canisius College four years ago and did social work before going into retail management, the inspiration for mentoring was her mother.
“My mom always told me to fix what I don’t like,” she says. “And at Canisius, they tell you to get an education so you can serve other people.”
Brown, who used to work in City Hall, is a disciplinarian and relishes her role as the “enforcer.” She has worked with people dealing with violence at home. “My thing is helping,” she said.
“Jackie is good at conflict resolution,” Peete says. “I’m very good at fashion, skin care and diet. A lot of girls in the inner city don’t know a lot about it. And Marilyn is very good with the younger girls and with spirituality.”
“All of us have been mentors for years,” says Gibson, who works with young people in Elim Christian Fellowship and does mentoring at the Holy Cross Center on the Lower West Side. “We’re like big sisters, literally. We’d like to expand it to the north, south, east and west, the four corners of Buffalo. There’s such a need. They don’t focus on girls. It’s always the boys.”
After the Beauty Mark session begins with another circle of prayer, a new set of notebooks – journals – come out, and two new mentors arrive. They are Kimberly Childers, who is finishing her master’s degree online, and Shantee Perkins of Starr Connextions, a motivational speaker who is DJ Starr from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday on WBNY 91.3 FM.
The girls write down what they’re thankful for and then read what they’ve written. An Emerson High School student says she wants to be in fashion and the theater and to live in New York City and Paris. She would also like to get married by her 30th birthday in 2027.
“You’re all invited,” she says.
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