The Ojai Valley News
Author: Ashley Lowe | OVN Contributor
A trend is emerging among the teenage women of the Ojai Valley – they are standing taller, smiling bigger, and speaking out more. They are going after their dreams, expressing themselves, and embracing differences in others.
They are graduates of the Girls Empowerment Workshop, a free program for girls from 12 to 18 years old sponsored this spring by the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation. The purpose of the program is to give girls the knowledge and the tools they need to make healthy choices. The 10 after-school sessions have titles such as “Beauty, Fear and Empowerment,” “Assertiveness, Personal Safety and Self Defense,” and “Media, Leadership and Activism.”
With her open, interactive, and often humorous teaching style, instructor Tobi Jo Greene creates a fun and exciting environment. After a full day of school, these girls devote another two hours to this voluntary class simply because they sense how much it helps them (they receive no school credit for their participation). One student says, “Because of this class, I learned the communication skills and assertiveness I needed to get out of an unhealthy relationship.”
One of Greene’s favorite sessions is the “Women Role Models” day when she invites adult women of diverse ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds to visit the class. She asks the women to talk about the challenges they overcame on the path to a healthy, happy adulthood. The women share how they stayed strong through everything from alcoholic parents to sexual abuse to depression to eating disorders.
The curriculum culminates in an overnight camping trip in the Sespe Wilderness because, as Greene puts it, “I feel girls are at their best in the wilderness where there is no pressure to be beautiful. They get to just be themselves.”
Greene developed the Girls Empowerment Workshop as a result of 15 years of experience empowering individuals through environmental education, ropes courses, sexual health education, self-defense instruction, and rape crisis counseling. She hopes to create a similar empowerment program for teenage boys.
Greene is so energetic and skilled at helping others empower themselves that Caryn Bosson, executive director of the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation, says of her, “She is one of those lucky people who have found their passion in life. She has found exactly what she is meant to do.”
The Girls Empowerment Workshop recently wrapped up at Matilija Junior High with 15 graduates. During the past year it has involved girls in both Oak View and Ojai. It has received funding from the Ventura County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation, and Curves. Plans are to offer another Girls Empowerment Workshop for young teenagers at the Oak View Teen Center this fall.