GirlAdvocates!

We’ve all been there. The struggle for identity and independence that plagues the period of adolescence. For most, this is the most turbulent time in one’s life — characterized by the transition from childhood innocence to accepting adult responsibility. This freedom can often cause individuals to take a suboptimal path, forming rigid habits and mindsets that set an unfortunate lifelong tone. The adolescent years are vulnerable for many, a period during which support and positive encouragement are critical. GirlAdvocates! was founded last fall upon this realization. Instead of focusing on the negativity that plagues adolescence, GirlAdvocates! focuses on bringing out the best in girls through empowering and developing inner strength and resilience.

GirlAdvocates! works to empower girls globally, locally and individually through the many programs and opportunities offered to our members. On the global level, we raise funds and awareness for our philanthropy, The Girl Effect, which sponsors educational programming for girls in developing countries. We have been able to raise over $800 for the cause thus far through events such as yoga night and our annual “We believe in the power of girls” pledge wall. We will also be hosting a benefit concert next spring as well as introducing the first ever “Week of the Girl” in partnership with “GirlUp.”  It will be a weeklong extravaganza of speakers, engagements and fun.

On the local level, GirlAdvocates! partners with local nonprofits in the Austin area that also align with our goals. For instance, we have been able to supply volunteers to GenAustin, GirlStart, Girls on the Run, Dress for Success and many other local organizations aimed at empowering young women and girls. Many of our members have dedicated further involvement in these organizations in the form of internships and regular commitments.

On the individual level, our members also have the opportunity to join our mentorship program with Webb Middle School. This year we have provided over 80 mentors to the school and have been able to establish a significant connection with the administration. Our members get to directly impact the life of the girl they work with by becoming a positive role model. We have been able to bring mentees to campus twice to allow them to learn about the college experience and visualize what it takes to make it here. We also provide activities and themed discussions for the mentors and mentees to deepen and establish lasting relationships.

Overall, GirlAdvocates! has been able to grow so much in its relationship with the University and Austin community over the course of this year. Last spring, GirlAdvocates! even received the “Best New Organization” Swing Out Award, given annually by the Office of the Dean of Students. We are excited to begin our second collegiate chapter at the University of North Texas this coming spring and to further expand our mentoring program and relationships with the community. If you would like to stay updated with or get involved in GirlAdvocates!, please like our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/girladvocates, and visit our website, www.girladvocates.org

Canton is a neurobiology and nutrition senior from Houston. She is the president of GirlAdvocates!

GirlAdvocates! President Lauren Caton eats lunch with her mentee Ashley Ortiz at Webb Middle School on Friday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Claire Trammel | Daily Texan Staff

While many of her fellow classmates were concerning themselves with J2’s ever-changing menu, nutrition junior Lauren Caton, the founder and current president of GirlAdvocates! was seeking out UT students to join her in an effort to reform societal standards. 

GirlAdvocates! is a UT organization focused on empowering young girls through education, positive self-image and health. Like many young girls, Caton experienced a lack of self-confidence during her adolescent years, which led to a desire for guidance and need for support. She was able to emerge from her negative experiences with a goal in mind.  

“These experiences helped me realize how much support one needs during this vulnerable time period,” Caton said. “Since then, I have always been passionate about helping young adolescent girls develop their potential.”

The members of the organization serve as mentors for girls in the sixth, seventh or eigth grade at Webb Middle School. Mentors have to go through a training session with Austin Partners in Education, which fosters volunteer-driven mentoring programs in Austin Independent School District. The sessions help the mentors improve their communication skills.

“[We] try to be on their level so they think of us as peers, not teachers,” GirlAdvocates! Vice President Anna Marie Pratas said. “Potential members must understand that it is an open discussion with the mentees.” 

While participating in GirlAdvocates!, members become role models and friends with their mentees, meeting in weekly mentor lunches. On any given Friday, Caton, along with two or three other members, drive to the middle school around noon. They often promise their mentees the week prior that they will bring Chick-fil-A or candy with them to their next visit.

GirlAdvocates! makes an effort to introduce the girls to the concept of going to college. By tuning them in at a young age, GirlAdvocates! hopes to inspire them to consider it a feasible option. 

Caton and her mentee Ashley Ortiz frequently talk about the UT campus, and more recently, Ortiz’s application for Breakthrough Austin, a local summer program that helps to prepare students for college. Ortiz is interested in the college experience. While the art school sparked her curiosity, she was quick to bring up an interest in chemistry.

Caton and her fellow mentors make an effort to be there for the girls every week. Role models do not come in the form of acquaintances — they form through consistent exposure and reliable support. GirlAdvocates! takes pride in creating and fostering these relationships in an attempt to prevent the negativity that Caton and so many others dealt with during these same impressionable years.