VALDOSTA — Nearly 100 young women from around the area attended the Sister to Sister conference held Tuesday at Valdosta State University.

The annual event is hosted by the Valdosta chapter of the American Association of University Women and serves as a way to encourage teenage girls towards positive and successful lives.

Several members of the AAUW and volunteers from the university joined the young women to provide a full day of activities and discussions while addressing the issues of self-esteem, body image, peer pressure, self respect and abstinence.

“We bring in a group of professional women to speak with the teens on their level and the group to really address the issues of middle school girls. For many of them, these interactive workshops give them a voice and throughout the day a true sisterhood is formed,” said Rosetta Coyne.

A group of students from the VSU Drama department came in first to coach the girls through several improvisation exercises and some expression activities to break the ice among the newcomers.

As the day progressed, the group of teens listened attentively as guests reinforced their self worth and importance and encouraged them to maintain a high self esteem. Keynote Speaker Dr. Shirley Hardin shared with them the beauty of being women.

Later, Laverne Gaskins talked to the young women about how some music lyrics can influence them toward a poor self image.

“We did a session on the misogynistic lyrics found in some of the music that many teens are listening to. They actually examined what type of messages these lyrics convey, and many of them realized through reading the lyrics, without the beat or music, that these songs objectify women as well as send out the wrong messages to the boys that they interact with,” Gaskins said.

During other discussions, the teens felt free to speak up about the specific issues affecting their age group and participated in a truthful and open dialogue with women of AAUW.

“I think that it’s important for us to have sessions like this because many of the girls feel like they can’t talk to their parents about certain issues. When they get in this environment and they realize that they aren’t alone in their worries, their questions, their thoughts, they are more likely to talk and get the answers they are seeking elsewhere. We certainly promote abstinence among the girls, but it’s important that we be here to listen and talk with them so that we can dispel some of the myths that they hear, too,” said Rozell Slaymon, STS Coordinator.

“This is my second time coming, and I really like that we get to express ourselves freely here. The speakers are older than we are, and they have gone through the things that we are going through now, so it is helpful to me to be here,” said Brooks County Middle School student Tatiana Hill, 15.

In addition to group discussions, the teens also got creative through craft activities and a dance seminar with Melissa Thomas and Company. Members of the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. also gave the girls a taste of the college life as they took a full tour of the growing university campus.

As the day ended, AAUW President Christine James gave the teens gifts and they reflected over life lessons they’d learned throughout the day.

Anyone interested in helping to support Sister to Sister should contact the Valdosta State University AAUW.

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