It was a typical high school teaching day when choral instructor Jimmelyn Garland Rice took a break to use the restroom. When she stepped into the bathroom, however, she heard the disturbing sound of a student purging in an adjacent stall. Then as she was washing her hands, Rice overhead a student talking about her abusive stepfather and another confiding to a friend that she was afraid she might be pregnant. The following week Rice found a girl in the restroom cutting her arms with a razor blade.
Compelled to do something, Rice started taking her breaks in the bathroom rather than the faculty lounge so that she could befriend a host of lost, lonely, struggling girls. The issues facing these teens were serious and numerous, including addictions, eating disorders, self-harm, pregnancy, and toxic relationships.
As time passed, Rice couldn’t shake these stories from her head or her heart, nor did she want to. Her desire was to let these girls know that they were wanted, needed, valued, and loved. So she decided to host a “Girls Nite In” (GNI) to offer a safe place for teen girls to congregate, build healthy relationships, and learn to make better choices.
Rice guessed that maybe a dozen girls would come. Instead, 55 girls showed up. That was eight years ago; since then, 1,700 teen girls have participated in GNI.
In fact, the movement has grown exponentially, with chapters popping up around the globe. Though Rice continues to bring GNI to other states and countries, she remains laser focused in her mission to enlighten and empower teen girls right here in Avon by providing the tools they need to sidestep self-destructive behavior.
Directed to middle school, high school, and college girls, Rice stresses that GNI is not a youth group. “My target GNI girl is one who will likely never darken the door of a church,” says Rice, who notes that these young ladies predominantly turn to their peers for guidance. And that’s precisely the problem. “I want to reach those who might never have a chance to hear truth or find hope.”
Each two-hour GNI event includes a speaker from the community who shares her personal story about the highlighted topic—each of which always addresses “matters of the heart.” Topics vary annually, though certain ones resonate with the teen population every year, including body image, toxic relationships, and sex/self-respect.
“I keep my finger on the pulse of teen culture to assess girls’ current struggles,” says Rice.
After the speaker concludes, participants split into small groups to chat. Before closing, Rice shares practical life-coping skills and principles of truth meant to energize, inspire, and uplift.
“These meetings are raw, real, and candid because frankly, if they weren’t, girls in this culture would get up and leave,” says Rice, who acknowledges that the participants crave honesty and vulnerability in their coaches and volunteers. Why? Because “nobody relates to perfection.”
Every GNI attendee receives a t-shirt and workbook. They also enjoy a meal at the start of the event—”an essential element,” says Rice, as it may be the only food some of them get for the day. “We meet their physical needs before we address their emotional and spiritual ones,” says Rice. “And there is no cost involved with attending. If there were, the very girls who need our program the most wouldn’t be able to come.”
School superintendents tell Rice that although they see students destroying their lives every day, they don’t know how to help them. That’s where GNI fits in.
“This program is a bridge to those who need it,” says Rice. “And I’m honored, humbled, and happy to provide that bridge.”
For more information about GNI, or if you would like to act as a sponsor or make a donation, contact email@example.com or call (317) 414-8960.