What Graduates Say
"Before, I doubted myself, but Girls' LEAP taught me to be confident and just to be myself." — Jerdaly
“My favorite reflective skill was thinking about who are my advocates. It gave me the sense there is always someone there for me." — Santana
"Thank you for showing me who I am and giving me back my confidence." — Participant
"I learned to be kind and to give people chances and to be positive and look for the good things." — Participant
“My favorite was how to speak up for myself, to trust myself, the say No chart and the cyber bully chart. I learned how to take care of myself. In my old school, I wasn't confident and kind of got bullied. In LEAP I noticed everyone is unique in their own way.” — Jayme
“Girls’ LEAP, girls that leap? I love leaping, I love reaching to my better self, I love knowing how to protect myself, and I love Girls’ LEAP.” — Micky Y.
“If I were to choose one main thing LEAP taught me, it would be about boundaries. In this day and age, whether it’s a simple conversation, or unpleasant physical interaction, people need to learn boundaries. [LEAP] changes lives, starting with a simple word: ‘NO’.”
“What I gained from LEAP was the courage to say no and having the courage to stand up for myself, physically and mentally.” — Tiffany L.
“LEAP really taught me to treasure myself, and to love myself in many ways. It taught me that we all have value and that we all should be appreciated no matter what. Most importantly it taught me to be myself.” — Joyce C.
“When I joined LEAP, I was excited to learn both physical and verbal self-defense skills. What I didn’t anticipate was how much more I would learn. Since becoming a Teen Mentor, I've noticed what may seem small, but significant, positive changes in the way I present myself, my character, and my confidence. We are encouraged to take on new challenges and safely step outside our comfort zones. Public speaking is something I’d shied away from before, but with the confidence I gained through the program, I was able to speak to more than 150 people at LEAP’s annual gala! And all this is just part of the reason I love being a teen mentor. Really, the most satisfying part of my job watching the girls I teach flourish.” — Matinah Y
“Girls’ LEAP is my safe space, my home.” — Mah C
"Now I have a new-found sense of self-confidence that translates to other areas of my life. In the classroom, I no longer shy away from answering questions and raise my hand whenever I know the answer…Outside of the classroom setting, I have also seen growth within my extracurriculars. I gave a speech about my leadership skills to club members, something I previously would not have had the courage to do." — Suhayla A
"Girls' LEAP prioritizes the mental and physical health of Teen Mentors. Every other Saturday, we meet with Jeannetta, a Black female licensed therapist, to help us understand the negative environments around us and learn how we can still manage to be ourselves by getting rid of the toxic energy. My experience with Saturday self-care is always refreshing. I feel more relieved and happier with myself. I also tend to work more on my mental health by sleeping earlier, doing positive affirmations, and fighting the negative thoughts in my head. Jeannetta has taught me how to properly manage my time by putting time limits for certain apps on my phone, dividing up my work on certain days, and how to cope with the troubling events happening around the country." — Zeinab Y.
"Last night’s program was amazing. Very informational and inclusive of other’s identity. I felt it was a program that was needed because it allows us to grow and make everyone, staff and participants alike, feel welcomed." — M.C., Teen Mentor
Mah Camara’s Story
Mah Camara – Answering the questions:
Why did you join LEAP?
What has your experienced been?
How has LEAP changed you, and changed the youth you work with?
When I joined LEAP, I left another job. At that job, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had to put on this façade and I couldn’t be true to myself and I knew it wasn’t good for me. But at this time in my life, I didn’t open up to anyone.
My friend introduced me to LEAP and I came and did the training and the workouts and the workouts made me feel empowered – like nothing else – like I could do anything.
But then when we got to the final exercise – the long walk — everything that I’d been holding in came out. I was halfway through it and I had a full-on breakdown. I just started crying and crying. I wanted to run away but I didn’t. Instead, Raquel came over to me and asked me if I needed a hug and she gave me a hug. She gave me time. I don’t know if she understands what she did for me. At a time when I felt like I had no control, she gave me control. Everyone made me feel validated and they gave me time and they didn’t ask me to tell my story or to explain why I was crying.
Starting from that day, nothing in this group made me feel anything less than powerful. If I was scared to do something, they would encourage me. If I was nervous about signing up for something, they said, “what’s the worst that can happen?” I did things that I had been scared to do forever and I said things that I had been scared to say forever. And over time, I began to open up.
In working with the girls in our programs I feel that with my growth, comes their growth. I can bring my full self to the girls and that makes it possible for them to fully connect with me. In this last program I was in, the girls were pretty shy at the beginning but as we went along, they became comfortable with telling their stories.
LEAP changed all these participants and changed me. I can tell you, we changed these girls lives – we made them ready for the world!
“'Go, go, go!' my coach blares. I whisper to myself, “I can’t do this.” My coach says again, “Go, go, go!” I stay in my strong stance: my knees bent, one foot out, my arms raised above my waist and my fists molded. I make contact with the punching bag, feeling the stress pour out of me. I envision myself in a scary scenario with a robber; I can feel the vision charging my inner strength. I had succeeded in my very first self-defense class drill! I witnessed a different “me” at that moment. How did I do that?
When I started high school, I never envisioned myself voicing my opinion, standing up for myself, or being in the spotlight… One day, my history teacher introduced a program called Girls’ LEAP. At first, I wasn’t so intrigued. What’s special about a self-defense class? I was hesitant to apply because the program was outside my comfort zone. But I took the role of a risk-taker, a trait I usually didn’t see in myself and signed up. I had no idea what I was in for, but something told me I had to.
On the first day, I vividly remember the bright white tees with pink bolded italicized print, worn by all three instructors, proclaiming GIRLS’ LEAP SELF DEFENSE PROGRAM. In an instant, the whole atmosphere of the room became welcoming. Throughout the program we went over safety skills and rehearsed. We practiced and practiced until our limbs could barely carry us. One week, my coach asked me to demonstrate a move in front of the whole class. I was hesitant, but everyone in the room was very encouraging. At that exact moment, when I heard the applause from my peers, I was overwhelmed. I realized that I had achieved something I never thought was possible.
A few weeks later the program concluded; we decided to perform our new skills for our school community. My coach suggested that I take the lead in the performance. She saw the growth in me that I had trouble expressing and pushed me to take the opportunity. With her encouragement, I disregarded my self-doubt and surprised everyone, including myself, when I agreed to do it.
Now I have a new-found sense of self-confidence that translates to other areas of my life. In the classroom, I no longer shy away from answering questions and raise my hand whenever I know the answer. My history teacher commented that I had become a new person. Outside of the classroom setting, I have also seen growth within my extracurriculars. I joined the Advisor Student Council and successfully ran for the position of grade level Liaison. I gave a speech about my leadership skills to club members, something I previously would not have had the courage to do.
Now, I actively recruit younger students in my school to join Girls’ LEAP and empower them as my coach empowered me. I can empathize with younger students in my footsteps and take pride in being able to help them make the most of their high school experience. Now that I understand myself more, I am excited to go to college and bring a piece of this new me to a new space while encouraging those around me to stand up for themselves."