The Girls Are All Right

The Girls Are All Right

With Colbians leading the way, girl-empowering Hardy Girls Healthy Women sparks a national movement

By Laura Meader


Emma Creeden ’12, center, helps Rose Warren, left, and Lexie Bourne during an Adventure Girls program titled Chemical Commotion, held at Colby by Teaching Associate in Chemistry Lisa Miller.
Photo by Chris Bennett

Training adults and communities to create “hardiness zones” specific to the individual community gives girls a safe place in which to grow, be creative, and ask questions about their world. By learning skills such as media literacy and critical thinking, communities and girls can decipher and challenge the culture surrounding them while developing an appetite for social change.

“The concept that I love the most about Hardy Girls is that it’s about changing the environment, not changing the girls,” said Nancy Gruver, founder of New Moon Media, a Minnesota-based magazine and online community for girls. Gruver

refers to Hardy Girls’ work on New Moon’s companion website,, and on Facebook. Gruver said she admires Hardy Girls’ ability to put theory into practice.

Since 2008, 1,500 adults around the country have participated in a Hardy Girls training or workshop that introduced the theories and practices shown effective in creating hardiness zones for girls. Hardy Girls now offers training online through webinars.

Project Girl, an arts-based program in Madison, Wis., relied heavily on Hardy Girls philosophy and on Brown’s research to get its organization up and running. Brown collaborated with cofounder Jane Bartell on the Project Girl curriculum and has supported the group during its eight-year existence. “She’s been absolutely key in everything we’ve done,” Bartell said of Brown. “She’s my mentor.”

In central Maine, Hardy Girls makes a real difference for local girls, participants and evaluations confirm. In 2009-10 alone, Hardy Girls reached 240 local middle and elementary students through its Adventure Girls program and Girls Coalition Groups. Colby students facilitate 17 weekly Girls Coalition Groups in schools using Hardy Girls’ curriculum to lead discussions and activities.

Berol Dewdney ’13, a WGSS major from Chester, Vt., who facilitates a group in China (Maine) Middle School, studies feminist theory and social change in her Colby classes. As a facilitator, she puts theory into action. “Not just thinking and writing about it—but thinking, writing, and doing,” she said.

Colby students have been doing a lot for Hardy Girls over the years. Hardy Girls’ curriculum, an 80-page guide, grew out of activities designed in 2003 by students in Brown’s practicum class who developed workshops for junior high girls in Winslow and Waterville. The girls loved the workshops and asked for more, Brown said.

The next school year Brown worked with six Colby students, including Williams and Dupont, in an independent study to explore the possibility of running weekly sessions. In conjunction with Mary Madden, a professor at the University of Maine, the students developed more activities and discussions related to issues that girls said were important to them. After another year of running groups, the organization produced From Adversaries to Allies: A Curriculum for Change.

Hardy Girls has sold 1,200 copies of the curriculum, now in its third edition, to users in 38 states. One current student facilitator is using the curriculum while studying in Senegal; former facilitators take it with them after graduating and use it around the country and in far-flung places including Sudan, Nicaragua, and Mozambique.

Most student volunteers leave Waterville after graduation, but some have stayed, notably three of five current Hardy Girls staff: Director of Programs Jackie Dupont ’04, Director of Development Allison Cole ’07, and Executive Director Williams, whose leadership has been recognized twice in the last two years. In 2009 Williams was named a “Nexter,” an emerging leader, by Mainebiz magazine, and in 2010 Williams won the first Open Door Award, for women under 30 who demonstrate exceptional leadership, from the Frances Perkins Center, a research facility honoring Perkins, the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet.

“I have had the opportunity through Hardy Girls to develop my own hardiness, to develop my own sense of self, my own leadership, my own activism, my own voice,” said Williams.

Waterville native Kerrilee Knights is one of the many young women to benefit from Hardy Girls. First introduced to Hardy Girls at 12, Knights, who said her home life “got a little crazy,” participated in programs, volunteered, and joined the board at 16. She learned new definitions of success from the positive role models she met, and in 2010 Knights, 24, earned a degree from Green Mountain College in Vermont. “Hardy Girls was always there as a positive source in my life,” she said.

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  • On January 13, 2011, Amanda Vickerson wrote:
    I'm so proud of what HGHW has accomplished in such a short amount of time. I've enjoyed facilitating coalition groups and working with the adventure camps and I look forward to all of the milestones to come!

  • On January 30, 2011, Ben wrote:
    Way to go Megan!!!!!!!!! YOUR A ROCK STAR!