VANCOUVER — Lauren Powell has learned that you can’t be afraid to knock on a door, because the potential answer just might change your life forever.
Growing up in a single-parent household on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the Grade 12 student from Britannia Secondary School admits that it wasn’t always easy to dream big dreams.
Yet after attending a youth leadership forum this past summer, an idea hatched in her mind to begin a community sports curriculum for impressionable young girls, one which she hoped would empower them to make the right choices as they began to enter their high school years.
Enter ‘Girls Got Game’, a program for inner-city elementary school girls in grades four through seven which Powell, a member of her school’s varsity basketball team, launched on the fly in September amidst the workload of her senior year.
“I think at the very beginning it was hard for me to see what I wanted to do, because you’re low income, growing up with a single mom, and you feel all of these barriers and restrictions hitting you,” explains Powell. “But growing up, I also noticed that there are so many doors that open for you when you put yourself into specific situations. If you keep yourself in one place, stuck behind one door, you don’t get to see those other doors opening to what is out there beyond them.”
So Powell bravely placed herself on the figurative doorstep, not only meeting with key leaders from within the Britannia’s athletic community to secure facilities, but also seeking out and training a staff of mentors, then securing the funding required to make her vision a reality.
“Once I got the skills that I needed to go back into my community to create a program, I realized that this was something I could do,” says Powell who didn’t need to look any further for its home than the all-encompassing Britannia campus, which includes both an elementary and high school, as well as an ice rink and swimming pool as part of its community centre complex.
Swimming, skating, boxing, basketball. The list goes on. And as it does, so too does the confidence that Powell is beginning to see in the eyes of the young girls.
“I think a lot of girls in those grades are struggling in what they are becoming,” explains Powell. “They are going through puberty, they have new challenges as they begin to move on towards high school. So I just felt it was important to get them at these ages, to start living an active lifestyle, so that when they get to high school they don’t abuse the substances that can get them to the wrong side of the tracks.”
Having spent the majority of her life on the very Britannia campus she will graduate from in June, Powell looks well-prepared to begin the next chapter of her life. And the fact that she has left a legacy on the school grounds is something Mitra Tshan of Britannia’s community education staff couldn’t be more proud of.
“She is reaching the kids that are in their formative years,” Tshan says. “For a child to be engaged, to feel like they are contributing, is huge. For Lauren to start a group like this, she is giving them a sense of belonging and purpose. They know someone is looking out for them. Every single one of us needs mentors in life. They can play such a drastic role.”
For Powell, those mentors are all educators with a bent for promoting the athletic lifestyle.
Doug Radies encouraged her to try as many sports as she could at Britannia Elementary, while basketball coaches Tshan and Mike Evans have helped her flourish as a teen at Britannia Secondary.
It’s to the point now where Powell hopes the young mentors she has trained to instruct and empower within the Girls Got Game program will continue to pay it forward, creating a lasting vehicle for young girls to find their voice.
“Mike Evans and Mitra, they have seen me grow up and they used basketball to show me what I needed to grow up,” she says. “They helped to force me out of my shell to see that I could become a leader and a mentor to others in my community.
“So that’s what I would say to all the young girls,” she continues. “Just don’t get stuck on where you are today because you’re going to go somewhere in the next day or the next year. Doors will open and things will happen. And you’re going to get to be this amazing human being that you never would have if you stayed behind the first door that stopped you.”
That’s Lauren Powell’s way of telling you that the world is knocking.
(Oritinal article published in Vancouver Province, December 23, 2015 – Posted by Howard Tsumura)