Now, in her senior year of Raines High School, Amber Ferrell is about to end one phase of her life and begin another.
Girls Inc. from Jacksonville and Humana Inc. help her prepare. The nonprofit, which offers post-school, literacy, summer, and contact programs for girls at risk, and the health insurer are working together on an after-school “healthy living” course for girls. The course is currently aimed at students in Grade 9 through 12 in Girls Inc. programs in Title 1 schools that are home to many youth from low-income families.
The course is designed to improve girls’ understanding of the myriad of factors that can affect their health and help them develop the skills to manage their health.
When Amber, 17, first heard about it, she was intrigued.
Life, she said, can be “relentless” and will soon be more so for her. After her busy high school career – including serving as Miss Raines High School in 2021 and a cheerleader – she goes to the University of South Florida for a degree in biomedicine.
The course, Amber said, has “allowed me to open my eyes” about myself and the world around her.
“I realized it was valuable. I’m just getting started and wanted to study,” she said. “I got out what I thought and more.”
A healthy life is more than just eating and exercising. She also learned skills to navigate “everyday”, how to work with others and control their emotions, she said.
Amber said she now knows how to “stop and sit back and process … and do what is best for me” before reacting to emotionally charged situations. And she knows that other girls should be her allies.
“We have to be partners rather than opponents,” she said.
Alexis Howard, program director for Girls Inc.’s local subsidiary, said the partnership with Humana was brainstorming from a former nonprofit employee who now works for the insurer.
The course currently serves about 130 girls at three high schools – Raines, Ed White, and Sandalwood – and is expected to take place in two more high schools and one middle school this fall. Topics include career research, college readiness, literacy, exercise, nutrition, social-emotional learning, conflict management and resolution, teenage pregnancy, and sex education, Howard said. The curriculum also includes guest speakers and events.
“Girls are taught in a safe environment for girls … that equips them with the knowledge, tools and resources to make healthy decisions about their relationships, their bodies and their mental wellbeing,” said Howard.
Bernstein’s comments on the course are similar to feedback from other girls.
“They expressed their gratitude and appreciation because … it has become a safe place to discuss issues and concerns with a trusted adult,” said Howard.
The program came about “very organically,” said Katie Fleetwood, assistant director of community engagement at Humana in Tampa.
The company already funds many health programs in the area and wanted to expand into the underserved community “to help them choose healthy lifestyles,” she said. In particular, she said, “There weren’t enough youth programs.” Humana provided $ 20,500 for the course.
Girls Inc., which has been to public schools in underserved areas and has staff specializing in youth programs, was a natural fit for the course. The nonprofit knows all about the “stressors” teens face, some of whom don’t have “dedicated parents” to help out, she said.
“Every decision they make could potentially shape their future,” said Fleetwood. “We make sure they have access to community support that looks after our youth, to give them a chance they normally don’t.”
Beth Reese Cravey: [email protected]
GIRLS INC. FROM JACKSONVILLE
For more information on the Healthy Living course or to donate school and dorm supplies for girls in college, call (904) 731-9933 or visit girlsincjax.org.