POCATELLO — Sugar and spice and everything nice may be what little girls are made of, but things like cyberbullying, personal threats and rumors can sour the sweetness of growing up female as girls reach middle school age in the sixth grade.
Determining what adults can do to create an environment of peer support and a culture free from negative experiences became a challenge for Courtney Fisher and Rainbow Maldonado of Pocatello. Fisher has experience in public relations and Maldonado works in advertising at the Idaho State Journal.
It all began with a sincere discussion on the sidelines of a girls’ soccer game. They discussed the challenges facing young women and expressed concern about the dark side of peer isolation or torment that can lead to depression and suicide.
“We saw a need,” Fisher said.
Fisher said she wanted to help provide a positive environment for her own daughter, who enters sixth grade at Irving Middle School this fall.
That’s when Fisher and Maldonado began researching organizations that provide programs for young girls — specifically those in their pre-teens or early teens. The answers they found seem to come from the Kind Campaign’s Free to be Kind Initiative.
The Kind Campaign is an internationally recognized movement, documentary and school program based on the belief that acts of kindness bring awareness and healing to the negative and lasting effects of girl-and-against girl crime.
“It hits close to home when you have your own children,” Fisher said.
Once the pair of moms established contacts with the Kind Campaign, they approached School District 25 leadership about becoming partners in the process.
They said the administration of the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District was very supportive.
“We wanted to touch as many female students as we could at one go,” Fisher said.
“We wanted to get involved with the district in a way that would not only be helpful to them as administrators, but also supportive and encouraging of our daughters and their peers,” Maldonado said.
The result will be an assembly to launch a Kind Community campaign Wednesday, Sept. 23, at Idaho State University’s Stephens Performing Arts Center. More than 1,200 sixth-grade girls in the district are expected to attend, even though attendance is by parent permission only. Students will be bused to the Stephens center for the event.
The film “Finding Kind” will be shown to the sixth-graders, followed by a discussion of the film by the students and a social gathering. Later that evening the same film and discussion session will be held for interested parents in the school district.
“Finding Kind” turns a lens on a universal issue that affects nearly every female student at some point in their middle school and high school experiences. Physical fighting, name-calling, threats, power struggles, competition, manipulation and secrets all fall under the category of girl-against-girl ‘crime,’” Fisher said.
In addition to the launch event assembly and film, the two Pocatello mothers have enlisted the support of private and public schools in Pocatello and Chubbuck to integrate Kind Club curriculum into the schools.
“This year-long club curriculum involves students with self-empowering activities and will get them out in the community helping others,” Fisher said.
Maldonado and Fisher said they are hopeful that by simply starting an open and honest dialogue about the numerous struggles that girls face, girls will truly feel empowered to break down social barriers, lean on each other and create change. As the years pass, older girls can serve as mentors for younger ones.
The mothers have also worked with Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad and Chubbuck Mayor Kevin England. And the mayors have agreed to proclaim Sept. 21-27 Kind Community Week. That week there will be a kickoff celebration Sept. 21 at the new Portneuf Wellness Center off Olympus Drive, with many events and activities planned.
“It’s exciting to see different ideas and programs with the same end-goal come together to collaborate, share resources and evolve into something with more impact than any of us originally imagined,” said Fisher.
The Kind Campaign was started in 2009 by Lauren Parsekian and Molly Thompson while they were students at Pepperdine University. Both affected by bullying, they decided to produce a documentary and start their non-profit organization. The Kind Campaign received the Lilly Endowment grant in February 2009 for “Service and Social Action.”
Since that time, Lauren and Molly have personally spoken at more than 300 schools in the U.S. as they share their message of kindness toward others.
As a quote from their documentary states: “We may not all be beautiful, we may not all be smart, but we can all be kind.”