Banister has developed a model for small groups of teenage girls to share experiences, strategies and information. Since 1999 there have since been 11 such groups, most of them in Victoria, typically involving eight girls, a facilitator/research assistant, and a mentor. As well as their regular meetings, the groups go on educational outings to community agencies that the girls themselves select. Banister and her research team are preparing two curriculum manuals—one of which, funded by Health Canada, incorporates First Nations traditional knowledge—that will enable community groups across the province, and perhaps the country, to run similar groups.
Although dating violence receives a lot of attention, it’s not the groups’ exclusive focus. “It’s also (about) asserting your needs, and developing a sense of your own self, and connecting with who you are in a relationship. We help the girls identify when power dynamics were unequal in a relationship and what that would look like,” says Banister. “It’s important to focus on girls’ thinking, the way they see themselves and others.”
The mentorship study is among seven community-based projects on youth injury prevention—together known as the Community Alliance for Health Research—funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and organized by the UVic Centre for Youth and Society.
Each group’s mentor is chosen by the girls and shares both her negative and positive life experiences. Sam graduated from Stu” Ate Lelum in 1995. She had dropped out twice, once to have her baby, and again when leaving her boyfriend. But she was motivated to finish high school and then go on to earn a certificate in business skills. “Watching all my aunts and uncles and my mom…alcohol, not working, not educated, I just wanted to do something, be able to have a job to have money to do things.”
Sam has worked at Stu” Ate Lelum for over six years, first as receptionist and now as executive assistant. She is working toward a diploma in management through BC Open University. And, having broken the cycle of being stuck in abusive relationships, she is in a healthy and supportive one.
“I get things on my birthday now. The girls laugh along with me about all the good things that are happening to me now. They know what I’ve gone through.”
With 20 minutes left in their session, the group is making traditional dream catchers. Brass hoops, beads, feathers and pipe-cleaners brighter than a new box of crayons are scattered on the table. The girls are more relaxed with one another, less cautious.
Before working on their dream catchers, Banister says, the girls discussed their personal goals, most of which centre on education. One participant’s goal is to continue her daily attendance at Stu” Ate Lelum. Others share the goal of graduating from high school.
The girl who pushed tables together earlier in the morning is placing specific beads in her dream catcher to remind her of her goals: “Getting a degree in being a daycare worker, and being a professional dancer.”
Banister nods. She says a degree in child and youth care would be a good option for daycare work. The girl speaks up again. “I think we should have talked about our goals while we were making dream catchers, instead of before.” Banister thanks her and tells her it’s a good idea for future girls’ groups.
Sam is quietly writing the girls’ names on large brown envelopes to store their dream catchers until they finish them at their next meeting. After the girls have left, she says that if such a group like this existed when she was a teenager, she might have made different choices in her life.
“I just did things on my own, what I felt was right,” she says. “I had no mentor, no older sisters, no aunties or mother around me.” Now, after making a difference in these girls’ lives she is rethinking her own goals. She’ll complete her diploma in management, she says, and then she just might pursue a career working with and helping teens.
Mark Vardy will graduate in November from the UVic Writing program.
Catching Dreams | Catching Dreams Con't