Avon woman creates a program to enlighten and empower teen girls.

Writer  /  Christy Heitger-Ewing

It was a typical high school teaching day when Avon resident and Brownsburg 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, she overhead a student talking about her abusive stepfather and another confiding to a friend that 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 she could befriend a host of lost, lonely, struggling girls. The issues facing these girls included addictions, eating disorders, self-harm, pregnancy and toxic relationships. They may need guidance in seeking treatment options for eating disorders and other mental health conditions.

As time passed, Rice couldn’t shake these stories from her head or her heart, nor did she want to. She desperately desired to show these girls they were wanted, needed, valued, and loved. That’s when she decided to host Girls Nite In, where she could provide a safe place for teen girls to congregate, build healthy relationships, and learn to make better choices.

Rice hoped for a dozen girls at her first meeting, but instead 55 attended. In the eight years since, approximately 1,700 girls have participated in Girls Night In.

What was initially a local gathering has grown greatly, with chapters popping up around the United States and the world.

While Rice aims to introduce Girls Nite In to other states and countries, she remains focused on enlightening and empowering local girls, providing the tools they need to sidestep self-destructive behavior.

Aimed at middle school, high school, and college girls, Rice stresses that Girls Nite In 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 the girls predominantly turn to their peers for guidance. “I want to reach those who might never have a chance to hear truth or find hope.”

Each two-hour Girls Nite In event includes a speaker from the community who shares her personal story about the highlighted topic, which always addresses “matters of the heart.” Topics change annually, though certain topics 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,” Rice says.

After the speaker concludes, participants break into small groups to chat. Before closing, Rice shares practical coping skills and principles of truth that are 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.

“Because nobody relates to perfection,” she says.

Every Girls Nite In attendee receives a T-shirt and workbook. Attendees also share a meal at the start of the event. Rice says this is essential as it may be the only food some of the girls get the entire 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.”

Rice says that school superintendents tell her that although they daily see students destroying their lives, they don’t know how to help them, and that’s where Girls Nite In 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 Girls Nite In, or if you would like to act as a sponsor or make a donation, email info@girlsnitein.org or call (317) 414-8960.

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