Each month, those of us working with Hardy Girls Healthy Women want to share the talent and vision of some of our incredible staff, volunteers, students, and board members. For our first monthly spotlight, we are super excited to introduce you to Meg Charest – one of Hardy Girls Healthy Women’s Muses, who is also serving on the Board of Directors this year. Muses, in case you don’t know, are students at Colby College who volunteer their time, passion, and energy to facilitate and participate in Girls Coalition Groups with middle schoolers in the greater Waterville area.
We asked Meg a bunch of questions; read on to hear what she has to say!
How did you get involved with Hardy Girls?
I grew up in the Portland area, so I knew Hardy Girls from seeing GAB in action and from the Girls Rock! Awards, but I really got involved with Hardy Girls when I came to college and learned more about the Girls’ Coalition Groups–I was really excited to work with girls* in the greater Waterville community and it has really been an amazing three years getting to know a bunch of brilliant young women* in the local schools.
What program are you involved in? What is your role? Can you explain it a bit?
I’m involved with the Girls* Coalition Groups program, so I go with a co-Muse once a week during the school year to a local middle school and we work with a group of about 10 female-identified young people and work together to think about the issues relevant to the girls in the group in their environments and together build capacity and community through working together to learn about the different issues that strike accord with the group. The role of a Muse is kind of like that of a facilitator at the beginning of the year, and by the end I’m a support figure as the group members develop relationships with one another and direct the group more independently.
What’s a typical day like for you as a Muse?
On a typical group day my co and I drive to the school we are working with, check in, and meet with our group in the same place every week for 45min to an hour. We usually start group with a Rose, Bud, Thorn (everyone shares something good from the last week, something they are looking forward to, and something that wasn’t so good), which I really like as a way of checking in with everyone and hearing everyone’s voice right off the bat. From there we have a conversation and sometimes do an activity about a topic that the group chooses–we’ve done women in politics, bullying, mental health, gender in sports, gender in media, and a bunch of others. It’s really cool to see what is interesting and salient to the girls* in the groups, and how they choose to direct their explorations of those topics–every group I’ve worked with has really amazed me with the intention they have with their interactions and the way they take care of each other and check in with one another as they delve into issues.
What’s one thing you love doing as part of HGHW?
I really love when I get to go to the Girls* Rock! Conference. I love watching GAB in action because they are just amazing, and it’s been a super empowering experience for the girls* in my groups, who, even for just a few hours, are surrounded only by people who want to know what they have to say and take them seriously. The whole event is just such an amazing example of what young women* are capable of accomplishing and such a celebration of power and information, and I love that it is an intergenerational space that is youth-driven in such a meaningful way. It’s an honor to be part of that space and experience the efforts of remarkable young women* paying off and creating impact.
What do you wish you’d known earlier or that someone had told you when you were a younger woman?
I wish I had known that it is possible to accomplish really amazing things with people who aren’t your friends through collaboration. I think as a woman, I’m really fortunate that society affirms friendships, especially friendships with other women because those relationships are incredibly powerful and deeply important to me. However, they aren’t the only relationships that are important to know how to cultivate, and I don’t think that young women are always shown that or encouraged to seek out relationships that aren’t romantic partnerships or friendships. For a long time I thought the people I worked best with would also be my close friends, and sometimes that is absolutely true, but as I’ve had more experiences, I’ve realized that really amazing things can happen through working relationships, and that it isn’t realistic, efficient, or necessary for all of those relationships to be friendships–sometimes a shared goal is all that’s needed to make change happen and starting to understand that has really changed the way I approach projects and develop action plans. Coalition work is so important!
What have you learned, or can you imagine learning from the middle school students you work with?
I’ve learned so much from the students I work with, it’s hard to choose just one snippet to share… I think I’ve learned a lot about ways that saying no and/or developing an individual way to participate or not to participate is a really powerful way to share brilliance. Sometimes my co and I will come with an activity planned or an idea of how we would ideally like the conversation to move, and sometimes the group is really excited about those plans and sometimes they aren’t, and they share that feedback with us. Being assertive and sharing an idea or a need that is different from what peers are saying or from what people who are older than you are saying can be hard and takes a lot of courage, so that’s something I really admire about the students I work with and that has taught me a lot about how I approach resistance and sharing different ideas in other areas of my life.
You have a free day to yourself — what do you do?
I’d probably start the day with a run–I’m lucky enough to live only a few miles from the ocean when I’m not at school, so running to the water is one of my favorite things to do. From there, I’d probably read or write outside for a little bit, maybe at the beach, and then finish the day out by cooking dinner with some friends or family and enjoying some time with them.
Do you have any skills or talents that most people don’t know about?
No useful ones but I can ride a unicycle and I’m trying to teach myself to fiddle which I’m hoping will be a talent soon…
What are you happiest doing when you’re not in school or at work?
I really love to be outside, especially with friends or family–hiking, running, biking, canoeing, and swimming are some of my favorite things to do in the outdoors, but I also really love to just hang around and read, paint, or write in my journal.
Favorite place in Maine?
I love all of it but I’d have to say the Downeast area–Schoodic, Blue Hill, and Stonington are some of my favorite places to visit.