Girls Rise-N-Shine in Southwest Detroit

DETROIT — As the sun is coming up in southwest Detroit, five dozen girls file into Alternatives for Girls three mornings a week, armed with girl power to tackle the world — well, if not the world, a full day of activities that are part of the agency’s Rise-N-Shine summer program. And that’s nothing to snub.

With a battery of programs that range from intellectually challenging to physically challenging, Rise-N-Shine cleverly disguises learning activities in fun packages that reek nothing of school. Football, gardening, community service, volleyball, martial arts, and exposure to writing and theater arts are just some of the activities to which the girls, ages four to 14, are exposed.

This year’s camp has a “limitless” theme, with a push to show how women can succeed in male-dominated careers. The goal is to help them understand their individual potential through Career Day speakers and participation in a My Career Journal workshop, where they create a journal, track a career, and document that career.

One Rise-N-Shine participant, April, started the program as a young girl with no real understanding of what she wanted to do for a living, which, according to Rise-N-Shine Coordinator, Emmet Mitchell, is normal for most young girls. Now entering the 9th grade, April has identified a career path and will be shadowing an OBGYN for a day as part of the program. By providing exposure to this medical career, the program is helping April stay directed and focused.

“The goal is there now,” says Mitchell. “The growth is there when you see them start to make decisions that are life-altering — and decisions for the good.”

Each program element seems to offer a different attribute. One of this year’s sessions on turning books into plays enhances intellectual and analytical skills as the girls are exposed to nontraditional literature, learn about plot and structure, and finally give a book life by turning it into an actual play. At the Rise-N-Shine finale at the end of the program, the play will be performed in front of the girls’ families.

Mitchell says he is surprised by even the youngest girls’ enthusiastic involvement in service learning projects where they give their time, energy and girl power for the betterment of the community.

Mitchell says he is surprised by even the youngest girls’ enthusiastic involvement in service learning projects where they give their time, energy and girl power for the betterment of the community.

“The enthusiasm that I witnessed last year and what we planned for this year is unbelievable,” says Mitchell. “It reinforces the good things about these young ladies in our community. And it keeps me humble.” In the community service segment of camp, girls learn about accountability and discipline, being generous, and the importance of giving to your community. This year’s participants will be holding a food drive for the pantry at Ronald McDonald House.

While the morning focuses on the more intellectually stimulating aspects of camp, after lunch is more get-up-and-go. They learn flag football, volleyball, martial arts, gardening, soccer, softball, dance and yoga. In the Stay Fit, Don’t Quit class, everything from practicing simple calisthenics to sprinting through relay races teaches the girls how to exercise. Through this miscellany of activities, the girls establish healthy habits so that they can maintain them. And that starts with learning how to challenge their young bodies in healthy ways.

“You have to learn how to discipline yourself to go out and do something that doesn’t give you instant gratification,” says Mitchell. “And it takes time to understand that.”

Complementing all the physical activity is time in the kitchen learning about how to eat healthy and prepare healthy foods. The girls learn about what to eat before working out, everyday good foods, and what foods to stay away from to maintain a healthy weight and strong heart.

The Rise-N-Shine program ended Aug. 2, and helps provide a holistic approach to learning and good health for neighborhood girls in a nurturing, safe and stimulating environment. And while the participants are sure to come out of the program smarter and stronger, the real benefits are more subtle.

“The program has a profound impact on the girls’ understanding of self,” says Mitchell. “They leave with a better understanding of themselves. We try to challenge them to do things that they’ve never done before.”


To volunteer or give, visit the Alternatives for Girls website at www.alternativesforgirls.org

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