Every teenage girl has personal struggles. Though many don’t always disclose those struggles, Girls’ Empowerment Mission (GEM) helps its GEM girls understand they’re not alone.
“I went through a period when I was having horrible thoughts,” says Sharde’, a senior at Chesapeake High School. “It’s quite hard to explain, which is why I found it really hard to share with my family because I didn’t want them to think of me differently or not love me the same.” After praying with her grandmother for answers, Sharde’ told her GEM leader who recommended she see a therapist. “When I started my medication, I was embarrassed because I wondered who else is on medicine due to mental health problems? It turns out, a lot of other people are but we just don’t talk about it.”
When Sharde’ shared her experience with her GEM sisters, she was embarrassed at first—not sure what kind of reaction she’d get. “I was blown away by their love,” she recalls. “They told me their personal stories of their struggles and that they’ve also known others who have had similar hardships. In that moment, I realized everyone goes through something and I didn’t have to feel alone. I also instantly felt more comfortable with my GEM sisters.”
GEM brings girls together who otherwise may not run in the same social circles. “You know how school can be, but what’s great is that there are girls I’ve never seen before in my school who I now call my sister,” says Sharde’. “We bonded fast and we are all still very close, even though we sometimes argue. Still, we always come around again to be happy with each other.” One of Sharde’s favorite ways of righting the group is through song. “One person says a word like ‘love’ and then we all sing songs about that word. We all work together and before we know it, everything that was wrong just melts away.”
For Sharde’, GEM has also been her north star. “It sounds corny, but GEM has really helped me realize who I am and what I want to be, and I know it’s helped other girls as well,” she explains. Sharde’ wants to become an optometrist or ophthalmologist. “Ever since I was young, I’ve been wearing glasses. But as I got older, I started seeing black dots and having double vision. I actually became depressed after my eye doctor didn’t know what he could do to help. But after I saw an eye specialist who said contact lenses could address the issues, my life has completely changed. I’m blessed I can now see, but GEM helped me see that I could help improve other people’s vision.”
Beyond helping teenage girls find their path, GEM gives them the confidence to pursue their dreams. “In the past, females were overlooked and considered a lower class. Thanks to GEM, I know I can do anything—even in a room full of men—because I now believe that even though I may not understand everything, I am still smart,” says Sharde’. “GEM has taught me how to worry about myself instead of worrying about other people as well as how important it is to improve ourselves and be a better person.”
Sharde’ couldn’t imagine when she started GEM as a ninth grader that she’d be applying to college and wanting to major in biology on the pre-med track. She’s currently waiting to hear back from Bowie State University and Hood College. “It’s so scary but I’m ready for it,” she says. “My GEM family has been such a great support, especially my mentor Erin who really is like the aunt I never had.”
Each GEM girl gets paired with a mentor for the duration of the GEM program—and the duo frequently remain in touch after high school graduation.
“I can tell things to Erin that I’m ashamed to tell my mother. Erin listens but never judges me. She gives me advice and has become my best friend,” says Sharde’. “My mother works a lot as a nursing assistant at Franklin Square Hospital and my younger brother is too little to understand. My older sister is grown up and busy. She’ll sometimes listen to me, but she won’t sit down and ‘listen listen’ like Erin does.”
“I know I’m lucky to have Erin in my life,” she continues. “As soon as we met, it just felt perfect. She welcomes me into her home and treats me like I’m part of her family. This relationship is very special to me so I work hard at maintaining it.”
The outlook is clearer for Sharde’, who, thanks to GEM, has the confidence to focus on her future.