The (JLG) made it look easy, but their two-day Positively Me program, which is free of charge and open to third-grade girls from both public and private schools, has been tweaked over its five-year history. The result is a warm, welcoming exercise in fun, sharing, and making friends.
Activities include dancing, role playing and skits, an anonymous question box, and discussion about the hurtful nature of bullying, its lasting consequences and how not to be a bystander.
This year's Positively Me chair, Andrea Oltjen, explained that the program was originally offered to 4th-grade girls. "But bullying is starting earlier than fourth grade," said Oltjen. "We thought it was better to stop it at its beginning."
League president Anne Miller remembers the first year. "The fourth-graders were already too savvy. They wanted to keep their cell phones. Third-graders, though, they're still so innocent and you can catch it before it starts."
Part of the strategy is to break the girls out of their regular school friend groups, if only for the weekend. The girls are grouped randomly as they eat pizza, rehearse skits, and rotate through activity stations. The girls also learn the value of volunteering, as one of the stations involves crafting dog toys to donate to , , Pink Shelter, and Stamford Animal Control.
Through bonding activities and sheer fun, the core messages of confidence and self-esteem are reinforced. During the "Circle Game," an icebreaker on the first night, the girls stand in a circle and one at a time introduce themselves with their name, school, and something - anything - that makes them unique. "I can make a weird noise with my mouth," said Caroline. "I love chocolate," said Sarah. "I think I'm awesome," said Lela.
The program's anti-bullying theme, however, is paramount. Through projects like "Bullied Bob," a paper silhouette to which the girls pay an insult, rip apart, and then tape back together the girls learn about bullying's lasting wounds. Through the anonymous question box, role-playing scenes with apologies, forgiveness and inclusiveness, the girls practice strategies they can use in the future. Through discussion they learn the difference between intervening and tattling. By the close of the program, all angles are covered.
Elizabeth Cook, the former chair of Positively Me, praised the dedication of the team of volunteers. "There's an ear-nose-and-throat doctor here volunteering, a dentist, a school teacher who just spent the week with students, a high school helper ... just to name a few." Indeed the ratio of volunteers to girls this year was about one to three.
According to Oltjen, "This year there were 60 women in the new member class." Still, with "Positively Me" growing in popularity and waiting lists expanding each year, the league will need more members in order for the program to continue to expand. Members are required to be 21, but otherwise the League is not exclusive. Plus, members can join from neighboring towns.
The JLG's mission statement: The JLG is an organization of women committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women and improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.
is located at 231 E. Putnam Ave. Tel. (203) 869-1979.