Each year we invite community members to nominate girls from around the state who are creating change in their communities. We honor six girls and their accomplishments in the area of community organizing, entrepreneurship, health advocacy, STEM, athletics, and challenging adversity. Each girl has the opportunity to speak about the work they are doing and we compliment their message with an inspiring keynote speaker.
Our 2019 keynote was:
Hebh is a muslim, Palestinian-American activist and current college student at City University of New York. In 2017, while Jamal was still in high school, the 17-year-old established herself as a leader in the fight against bigotry by organizing a New York City high school walkout. She’s also a leader of Integrate New York City, a student-run organization focusing on school segregation, and works as a youth policy fellow at New York Appleseed, a nonprofit fighting for equal access and resources in New York City schools. You can follow her on Twitter.
COMMUNITY ORGANIZER – This girl sees the importance of a united community and is making it happen by bringing together her school, peers, and/or community. She is not afraid to start changing the soil, especially for other girls!
Mikayla Reynolds, 18, Winslow
Mikayla, a senior from Winslow High School, is making change all over her community. She is the Co-Executive Director, Director of Programs & Outreach of Out and Allied Youth Theater, a volunteer and Board member with the REM community group, Outreach Coordinator for KVQC’s monthly event socials, the founder of the Clothing Exchange Closet; a member of the “Save the Mill” Fundraising Committee in North Vassalboro, and hoping to organize a child care center within the Mill! She has been involved in the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute for three years, the Girl Member of the Arnold Trail Service Unit for Girl Scouts, the youth representative of the Poverty Action Coalition and an active member, Student-Volunteer, at the South End Teen Center where she is spearheading the creation of a needs-closet in the facility as well. Mikayla has worked alongside the Lawrence High School Civil Rights team and has a mind for increasing justice and equality in the world around her. Mikayla has overcome tremendous challenges in her personal life to get where she is now and to propel herself into a brighter future. She is eager to continue changing the world by providing support to and for those who need it. She strives to make her community become a healthier, safer, and more tolerant place.
TITLE IX CHAMPION – This girl is an advocate for girls’ equal access to sports, including athletic facilities, coaching, education or equipment.
Ivy Whittaker, 16, Waterboro
Ivy is a very passionate athlete. For years she was a dancer, but after a series of injuries she had to stop. About a year ago, she decided she wanted to play rugby for the Portland Girls Rugby Football, but that was met with some pushback. As a smaller person it was assumed she wouldn’t be good at it and she would break. After pushing to be allowed to play, her mother finally let her, but soon after she started she injured her shoulder badly. While this should have reinforced what people said to her about being too small for rugby, she didn’t let this get her down. She continued to practice and compete even if it was sometimes with only one arm. Ivy deserves the award of Title IX champion because she exemplifies the ability to push past people’s’ expectations and not let anything stop her from doing what she loves.
AGAINST THE ODDS ADVOCATE – This girl refuses to be limited by what has traditionally been known as a physical mental health or developmental challenge. She is busy redefining “able” and making positive changes for girls in Maine along the way.
Haley Stark, 17, Falmouth
At 12 years old, Haley suffered from a spinal cord stroke, a rare incident that paralyzed half of her body and stripped her of the ability to do basic things like walking and eating. She spent months in rehab and through sheer force of will, Haley slowly regained some use of her right side, and today she can walk with just a slight limp. Rather than dwell on not being able to participate in track as she once had, Haley has immersed herself in a myriad of extracurriculars. She is a member of the Civil Rights Team, advocates for disability rights, published a memoir. Towards the end of her book, Haley says, “When people ask to shake my hand, it’s awkward only for a second. I can handle it and so can they.” It’s a small symbol of the courage and open mind that Haley brings to every challenge she encounters. For her willingness to tell her story, and speak her truth, Haley is worthy of a Girls Rock award.
HEALTH PROMOTER – This girl supports and/or works on wellness policies or programs that promote healthy lifestyles and choices, such as mental, emotional and/or physical health.
Fardowsa Muktar, 15, Lewiston
When Fardowsa started as a Summer Youth Gardener at St. Mary’s Nutrition Center, she brought her knowledge of farming and growing vegetables from her family’s farm to work in the community gardens around Lewiston. She was a shy leader who, rather than pointing out how much she knew, worked quietly and expertly and the other gardeners watched for her techniques and grew to respect her immensely. She continued gardening in the fall and cooked in the winter cooking program. As she’d done with gardening, she went about learning new recipes and trying new things and that encouraged other to try when they saw her doing it. The youth groups became less weary of healthier food choices, more active group activities, and all the other things the programs tried to offer opportunities to explore. A snowball effect took hold; as she encouraged others to try new things, and they listened to and respected her, Fardowsa began to try things that were particularly intimidating to her. She became a youth intern, a job requiring public speaking and facilitation skills. By the next year, pushing through her comfort zones, Fardowsa was leading youth programs, maintaining her own garden bed, coordinating the work in youth-led gardens, and helping design healthy, exciting menus for cooking sessions. Fardowsa continues to make Lewiston a healthier, happier place to live.
STEM-GINEER – This girl succeeds in science, technology, engineering or math. She rejects the idea these subjects are not for girls and has created a counter narrative with her accomplishments. She could be an inventor, a competition winner, or a pioneer in her field.
Ijeoma Obi, 17, Bangor
Ijeoma is a junior in the STEM program at Bangor High School. In her sophomore year, she earned first place in her category at the Maine State Science Fair and first place in the poster competition at the New England Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. She also was chosen to compete at the National JSHS Symposium in Washington DC. for her project entitled ‘The Production of Bacterial Cellulose for the Application of an Adhesive Bandage Substitute.’ The project is a novel research idea that may lead to an innovative way to treat wounds. Ijeoma was selected for a summer internship through the EPSCOR program. Currently, Ijeoma is working on an automated image program to examine cardiomyocyte contractions. If successful, the project may lead to new ways of detecting early onset heart disease. Ijeoma is a gritty kid with a strong work ethic. Her family came here from Nigeria in the hopes of her pursuing an American education. Her innovative approaches to complex problems reflect her aptitude and interest in STEM.
ENTREPRENEUR – This girl turned her passion into a paycheck by building up her own business and her bank account.
Hannah Leary, 12, Harpswell
Hannah comes from a six generation fishing family in Harpswell. Her idea began with an excess supply of lobster rope from her father and a table in her driveway. She began making and selling lobster rope baskets as a way to support her interest in horseback riding. Her baskets are handwoven, made with recycled lobster trap rope, and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Hannah taught herself how to make the baskets when she realized that “nobody wants you to know how to make them.” She selects old worn rope because it has character and is easier to work with. She hauls 40 lobster traps by hand over the summer and pet sits. In the past two years she has earned $2,000 for her endeavors. Hannah has plans to diversify her business by making lobster rope rugs, dog leashes, and larger baskets for a local realtor. She hopes to sell her products at the Common Ground Fair next year.
One mother of an award winner wrote:
It was wonderful to be in a room filled with strong, intelligent, and empowered girls. For [my daughter], she was most excited about feeling so supported by caring people. [My husband] and I both felt a sense of relief and hope that the next generation will be bold and relentless. Equally important, we were thrilled that both [our daughter] and our boys got to hear from and be with girls willing to work for change, equality and ultimately a better society. Needless to say, our whole family left the event feeling excited and impressed. [Our daughter] is already looking forward to participating in your programs once she is in the 4th grade!