Portland-based nonprofit A Company of Girls hosted an Empow(h)er awards night on Nov. 15 at Grace, raising $20,000 for free after-school and community outreach programs that empower girls through the arts. The event included an auction, an art sale featuring works by members and the first theatrical reading of the highly emotional dialogue “#girltalk2022.”

“It’s a reflection of the thoughts of middle school girls and a platform for them to express how they’re feeling, things they are going through,” Executive Director Jennifer Roe said. “These four girls were in the conversations where the lines were crafted, so they already feel them. Our hope is to get it into a festival or something like that in the spring. And, if not, we’ll do our own thing.”

The core A Company of Girls after-school program for girls in grades 4-8 meets weekly at Woodfords Church in Portland throughout the school year. Forty girls – twice as many as last year – participate. The nonprofit also has outreach programs in collaboration with the Boys & Girls Clubs and Portland Housing Authority.

Members typically put on a play in the spring, but in 2020, they filmed bits of “The Wizard of Oz” in their homes and Roe spliced together a movie. In 2021, they did online shows. In 2022, they had small in-person shows for family members. And this year they hope to return to public performances, something that current members haven’t yet experienced.

“The girls were so resilient through the pandemic,” event committee member Staci Runge of South Portland said. “They form tight bonds. I’ve seen the girls go through really tough times in their young lives, and they rely on each other.”

Board member Susan Miele of Portland did her dissertation research on relationships between friendships and self-esteem in adolescent girls. “This organization and the work they’ve done over 25 years is incredible,” she said. “The way that they empower girls is inspiring – and really hard work.”

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The girls rave about the activities, which include art, cooking and public speaking. But then most of them talked about self-acceptance, confidence and, most of all, friendships.

“My kid is always beaming when I pick them up,” Circe Moss MacDonald of Portland said. “There are social challenges at school, but A Company of Girls is a warm and nurturing environment with opportunities for arts, theater and self-expression.”

“There are a bunch of people here who I haven’t seen in years, and it’s like a big ol’ family,” said Savannah Smith, a 15-year-old program ambassador from South Portland.

Smith, who has been involved in A Company of Girls since she was in third grade, was presented with an Empow(h)er Award – with a nod of recognition for her mother, Amanda Wescott, who has driven her from South Portland all those years.

“Savannah has grown into a tremendous leader within our groups,” Roe said. “She’s become a role model and mentor to younger girls.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]


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