The Game Changers

August 01, 2019
A girl high-fiving a woman - The Game Changers

Participating in an after-school debate or a Model United Nations club, or being part of a basketball team are experiences many remember as an exciting foundation of their youth. However, for youth at risk—as are over 75% of school kids who have experienced violence—engaging in an after-school program can be life-saving. Such programs serve as an alternative escape for many minors who might otherwise face challenging circumstances in their neighborhoods, and sometimes their homes. To tackle these challenges, Girls in the Game has been working since 1995 in the city of Chicago, the initial site of the organization, to empower girls and address the growing concern of violence affecting youth.

Aiming to increase self-esteem, self-worth, address trauma, and non-violent means to resolve conflict through carefully designed projects, the organization’s programs have reached 50,000 girls since 1995. At the core of each program are sports, wellness, and leadership, and the efforts of Girls in the Game have been met with success in each of these areas. Engaging in a range of sports has proven to improve the participants’ physical wellness, resulted in a shift to a healthier nutritional diet, and created the opportunity for developing leadership skills through their roles in sports. Amira, an alum of the program and an All-American runner, shared that running track has opened her mind.

“I have learned to set expectations for myself and accomplish those goals regardless of distractions.”

She added that she now runs to be a trailblazer for young girls, but also to help them “be good people, stay healthy, stay focused on their goals and strive to be successful in whatever they want to.” Focusing on low-income neighborhoods with higher rates of violence, Girls in the Game successfully assisted 86% of its participants to implement the social-emotional learning and make use of non-violent mechanisms to resolve conflict. Likewise, participants in Girls in the Game programs demonstrated a steep increase in self-worth, self-esteem, determination, courage, and grit.

Building on their success, the organization expanded to new locations and in 2008 added yet another program: the Teen Squad. This program is designed for high school girls that are trained to coach Girls in the Game programs for youth, further strengthening the participants’ grit and desire to give back to the community. Leader-to-Leader is a special feature of Teen Squad, allowing the girls to interview working professionals to learn new fields and establish role models. Makisha is a Teen Squad participant from Denton, Texas. She earned an interview with the Dallas Wings’ VP of Operations, at which point she asked to see and photograph their office, knowing that one day she will have an office just like that. Girls in the Game fights to replicate Makisha’s story among all teens in the community. To reach all girls, including those facing greater difficulties, the organization recently introduced the Teen Club program model in 2017. The Teen Club reaches teens that experienced trauma, live in poverty, and lack access to the daily Teen Squad meetings. This is done in coordination with the school system to fit the Teen Club program during school hours. The addition of this model introduced 65% more teens to Girls in the Game.

In the spirit of supporting the safety and leadership of our future female leaders, girls’ and women’s empowerment has never been more crucial. Thanks to the generosity of CAF America’s donors, Girls in the Game is witnessing growing participation and growing demand in new locations. To learn more, please visit

The Game Changers Updates:

What are some impacts you have made as an organization that you are proud of and would like to highlight further?

Our FY21 year of programming continued to present challenges as well as opportunities for all of us. Through both virtual and small group in-person programming, Girls in the Game continued to be a support system for girls, making sure they had a safe and healthy place to go to connect with coaches and other girls in Chicago, Baltimore and North Texas.

We took a look at the world around us and found new ways to connect with and engage girls and their families. We created and distributed Fitness Packs so girls could stay active while at home. We interviewed and selected members of our Teen Squad program to help us develop new social justice curriculum. And we started a deep analysis of how to better serve girls in five Chicago West Side neighborhoods.

Girls in the Game values vitality and truly believes in the power of girls. FY21 allowed us to examine new ways to show girls that we support them, we value their thoughts, and we want them to have a voice in the world around them.

  • Total Girls Served (all markets) in FY21: 1,499
  • Total number of Fitness Packs distributed: 872

To support girls staying active at home and on their time, we distributed 872 Fitness Packs with health and wellness materials and equipment to girls and teens. The packs included a t-shirt, water bottle, ball, booty bands, journal and other materials to support girls’ physical and emotional health.

  • Total number of Teen Squad members enrolled in Just Teens Program: 7

Teen participants have demonstrated interest and investment in more opportunities to lead. This year, with funding from Healing Illinois, we piloted Just Teens, a project allowing Teen Squad members to create social justice lesson plans to add to Girls in the Game curriculum for younger girls. We were funded for seven positions, but over thirty Teen Squad members applied and participated in discussions about race, names, and identity before creating developing their curriculum. The Just Teens members also coached a workshop using their curriculum for girls from our Elementary After School program.

  • Total number of west side neighborhoods in What Girls Need Now Project: 5

Work began on a needs assessment project in five west side Chicago communities (Austin, East Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale and West Garfield Park). Through What Girls Need Now, we will hear from girls and other community stakeholders about the needs of girls and how our programs are matching up against those needs; the second step of the project is to create an action plan to implement what we learn.

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