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The very first day of Eureka!, we had a discussion with the girls about the motto of Girls Inc.: “Inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.” As we were defining ‘Strong,’ a few girls first thought of physical strength but the group as a whole very quickly turned to the concept of emotional strength. Here, we talked about resilience and the ability to bounce back after being knocked down. When asked for an example of someone they considered to be ‘Strong,’ many referenced their mothers, but only gave very brief reasons for why they chose her. Almost every one of the reasons was something along the lines of, “she takes care of me,” or “she works and then comes home and still helps me and my siblings.” At that point, on the first day of camp, I didn’t realize how intimately almost every single girl understood the idea behind the word ‘Strong.’

This Thursday, we did Cross the Line. Cross the Line is an activity that helps a person to relate to those around her, and hopes to reassure each one that they are not alone in their life experiences. Before, I was told that it required complete vulnerability and that it was an extreme empathy building activity, but I was in no way fully prepared for the emotions that surfaced during that hour in the gym.

“Cross the line if you come from a single parent household. Cross the line if you have been affected by alcohol or drugs in your household …if you have been homeless …if you have considered suicide …if you have thought or been told that it would be better if you hadn’t been born…” Tears filled my eyes as the majority of the girls crossed for every question. My heart broke as I saw every single girl who I had in class that morning cross for one question or another. As I watched some girls cross for question after question, I stared into their young faces that suddenly showed traces of their experiences and their clear eyes that had already seen too much.

I have nothing to teach these girls about being strong. Absolutely nothing. I have lived longer than they have, but they have lived more. The fact that they show up to camp every day with a smile on their faces and questions in their minds proves definitively that they already know exactly what strong means.

My only hope is that they recognize their strength.