FAIRFIELD — Jessinique Brown and Monique Armstrong-Land, both 14, found a place of refuge at the Matt Garcia Youth Center.
There, Brown and Armstrong-Land are surrounded by boys, boys sports and other boy-related activities.
But every Tuesday night, the girls go to a place where they can be themselves, a place where they can discuss their issues (sometimes, they said, about “annoyingly cute” boys), get advice, make friends and, most importantly, have a place free from boys.
The program Got Choices meets for 90 minutes every Tuesday for girls from middle school through high school to hang out, talk about their lives and sometimes air their issues.
Coordinator Shalon Maral brought it to the youth center a couple months ago, though she has been running it for nearly eight years now.
Got Choices is a Girls Scouts program that helps empower young women and helps them make choices in their lives.
Maral started it in Solano and Sonoma counties for girls in juvenile hall and teen moms.
When some of the girls were released, they wanted to continue with the program, but needed a safe, comfortable environment to meet.
Maral found that at the center. After she received a Ruby Award from the Soroptimist of Central Solano County, she finally had the seed money to start the program.
Got Choices is available not only for girls transitioning from juvenile hall, but any girl with a membership through the PAL center.
Maral believes that there is serious need for groups oriented toward young women, which was part of the reason she started Got Choices.
“Boys stuff seems to overshadow girls stuff,” she said. “There’s nothing out there for middle- and high-school girls to talk about what they want to talk about.”
Brown said that Got Choices is one of the few places she can really talk about her issues.
“Not all the time can you express how you really feel out in the open,” she said.
Maral helped the girls open up to her and each other by telling them a little about her tough childhood.
“It makes them more comfortable to tell their stuff, come open with each other,” she said.
The girls talk about their “highs” and “lows” every week, which sometime spiral into serious discussion about family issues, personal issues and relationship issues. All talk, Maral said, is confidential and stays in the room.
She sometimes uses activities, such as scrapbooking or journaling, to ignite discussion among the girls.
Last week, Armstrong-Land said, they made a poster about sisterhood and what they thought the meaning of that word should be. They also worked on life skills such as resume building and writing.
Maral hopes that through discussion and activities, she can influence these girls into making good life choices.
She said that through the program they can “appreciate where we have been . . . we’ve got choices.”
Reach Heather Ah San at 427-6977 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/HeatherMalia.