MEDINA — Before learning about internet safety Sunday, how to deal with increased pressure and being true to themselves, it started with a selfie.
After receiving their purple T-shirt from the registration table, 50 girls ages 11 to 14 participating in the Sister-to-Sister Conference at Medina Hospital laughed as they donned an array of feather boas, capes and flowered headbands as they prepared to take a selfie.
“They are going to create a hashtag to kind of brand themselves, whatever they think best fits them,” Allison Fazio, a United Way volunteer, explained. “Later on they will come back and take another selfie, and rebrand themselves and see if their brand image has changed after we have gone over everything.”
Now in its 19th year, Sister-to-Sister is a national program founded by the American Association of University Women to help girls learn how to achieve a healthy and successful experience throughout their middle and high school years.
“The research shows somewhere around middle school, girls kind of shift into getting lost,” Cindy McQuown, event co-chairwoman, said. “Maybe step away from science and technology and mathematics, maybe lose a little confidence.”
The program, which includes a keynote speaker, small group discussions and teenage mentors, provides the girls with a forum to share their experiences with other girls their age.
Veronica Bagley, of Akron, started in the program as a teen facilitator, a high school student who leads the small groups, and now serves as co-chairwoman of the program.
“It is kind of just a day to inspire (the girls) with ways to get through high school in a healthy way, give them some inspiration maybe to get involved in activities in high school,” she said.
The keynote address, she said, is delivered by a female member of community the girls attending can view as a role model.
McQuown said the keynote speaker should be “some woman that kind of represents to the girls who are at the conference what you could be if you want to be.”
Medina County sheriff’s Deputy Sharon Centner had that honor Sunday. Centner has served 21 years with the sheriff’s office, 15 of those as the DARE resource officer for Highland Schools.
Centner brought three Highland DARE role models to the conference — sophomore Angie Morgan, junior Brittney Ciomei and Highland alumnus Natalie Roma — to share their experiences as teenage girls making their way through school.
Centner didn’t shy away from sensitive topics, delving into the dangers and consequences of sexting to how a photograph posted on social media can have moral and legal consequences.
“We care about you. We know about your struggles,” Centner said. “We are hoping that by the end of today, you are going to walk out of here standing tall, a little bit more confident and ready to face every day.”
Centner said that before posting a photo to social media to think of a role model — Mom, Dad, Grandma — and what they might think of it.
The veteran officer also shared a little about being a woman in the male-dominated field of law enforcement.
“Do you think in my career field that I might have had a few struggles along the way?” Center asked the audience. “You have to be one step ahead and you have to make those good choices.”
Other conference activities included a color test to help the girls better understand their strengths and weaknesses, and a group discussion on how to represent themselves in a way they want to be perceived and to achieve success. Topics included having healthy coping skills, identifying signs of positive and negative friendships and also stress management.
“The central message is to bring young women together and talk about how to build strengths, how to build good, healthy relationships as they are getting ready to enter high school, and how to stay strong through that journey,” McQuown said.
For information about the Sister-to-Sister program, visit sistertosisternetwork.org.
Contact reporter Nathan Havenner at (330) 721-4050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.