"She's real shy [so] she's come out [of her shell] more," Pritchett said, about Waverli, who is a rising ninth-grader at Adairsville High School. "She's learning how to set goals.
"That was one of their main things -- setting short-term goals and long-term goals. She's been looking at careers and she's been thinking about long-range things like going to high school and going to college. ... It's kind of opened her eyes that to be a success she's going to have to get an education. It's a great program, a very good program. I recommend it to anybody."
On June 26, Waverli was one of 21 participants who attended a transitional ceremony, which marked the end of the GEMS' first-level session. Held twice a month from January to June, the 12 workshops covered a variety of topics from self-esteem and goal setting to leadership skills and oratorical speaking.
"The purpose [of GEMS] is mainly to equip middle and high school girls, ages 12 to 17, with life skills that they'll need to be successful leaders," said founder Susan Harris Thomas. "We worked for the past six months on increasing their self-esteem. We have really talked about how to make healthy choices and the components it takes to make good, successful choices as far as peer relationships, just life in general. We've worked with them on team-building skills. We've tried to increase communication skills through different activities we've done.
"We had someone come in to speak to them on how to set short-term as well as long-term goals. Right now we're concentrating more on setting short-range goals that they actually can set and see themselves accomplish over the next two to three months. Things as simple as 'I'd like to make As and Bs next semester. I want to successfully fill out job applications for a summer job. Do well in basketball' -- just basic goals. [It's] something that we've tried to help them learn how to gauge and monitor [the] progress toward whatever goal they have set."
With co-founder Sherry Wise-Mays' assistance, the organization became a nonprofit in December 2009. For Thomas, it was inspiring to watch many participants grow in confidence and life-skills during the first level of GEMS' program.
"Some individuals just come in blooming because that's their nature, but we had some that were really shy, that were in that shell," said Thomas, a Cartersville resident and social worker/case manager for Floyd Medical Center. "We saw several young ladies that ended up coming out of that shell in a positive way and opening up, communicating effectively and better with other young ladies and adults. We saw several children who said that they felt more confident. We do an evaluation with them toward the end of the program and I had several that wrote and said, 'I feel better about myself. I feel more confident now.'"
Participants from the first-level session will advance to the second level in August, where more focus will be placed on setting goals, leadership skills, teen pregnancy prevention, public speaking, etiquette and community service projects. The program also will be selecting 10 to 15 girls to participate in its first-level, 12-week program, which will begin around September. A kick-off celebration for both levels will be held in late August. To participate in GEMS' offerings, participants pay a one-time fee of $20.
For more information about GEMS, e-mail Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.