By Ashley Alt

Girls in the Game, an empowering nonprofit lifting young girls up, has an inspiring message for girls in Chicago and everywhere else; Girls are more than spectators. The premise of the nonprofit isn’t about winning, but making your voice heard, overcoming obstacles and getting off the sidelines and into the game.

Aiming for equity, the all-girl space operates under the belief that all girls deserve opportunities to reach their full potential regardless of background, gender, or circumstances. The award-winning nonprofit prioritizes girls and communities that need these resources most, running programs with trauma-informed care as a high priority and providing programming in underserved neighborhoods that witness violence and instability.

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With research unfortunately declaring that compared to boys, girls typically are not given the same opportunities, the organization seeks to change that statistic.

Dedicated To The Whole Girl

Iris Krandel, After School Coordinator for Girls in the Game, talked with us on how the organization is giving young girls the confidence they need to succeed in life, which provides them a platform to talk about building healthy relationships, bullying, and self-identity, explaining that most of the girls are coming from a background of trauma, whether direct or indirect.

While some people can say they grew up never feeling limited by anyone or anything, many cannot. Krandel was one of those lucky people. She wants girls to have the same experience that made her the strong, confident woman she is today.

“It is so important for girls to have these positive support environments, and I think Girls in the Game does a great job of providing that,” Krandel said.

Krandel humbly spoke, saying that while she is a making a difference in the lives of the girls, it’s the girls that are making a difference in her life.

“Many of the Girls in the Game participants are growing up in underprivileged neighborhoods, carrying traumatic experiences,” Krandel said. “Despite their at-home barriers, they continue to impress me with their enthusiasm and energy to try new things.”

Changing The Game

Since its founding in 1995, the nonprofit has empowered and enriched the lives of over 40,000 girls, putting them on a path to leading happy, healthy and strong lifestyles to go out into the world fearless and confident.

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Through GITG programming, young girls ages 7-18 acquire improved social skills, better self-control, perform better in class and become healthy lifestyle ambassadors to their families and friends who did not have access to a program like this growing up.

The organization’s approach to young girls’ health isn’t only unique, it’s proven. 10 years of research from Loyola University Chicago shows the impact of GITG programs in all areas of the girls’ lives, with 70 percent demonstrating significant increases in self-worth and 75 percent showing significant decreases in support for using aggression.

“We strive to provide young ladies with a comfortable space where they can try new activities and not feel compared to the level of their peers,” Krandel told us. “Many young girls don’t have someone to talk to about what’s going in with their family and friends.”

The work of Girls in the Game has been recognized by many prestigious organizations including the Healthy Chicago Award from the Chicago Department of Public Health, The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Community Leadership Award, and Susan Berkowitz Outstanding Service to Youth: Health & Wellness Award. 

The organization’s hope is to provide girls with the opportunity to become strong leaders and to understand that their gender does not define them. The nonprofit is committed to providing a safe space for the girls to be physically active, but more importantly, in teaching them to stand up for what they believe in.

Krandel believes the sports portion of programming to be the most beneficial to the girls, as they are able to take a lot more away from getting their bodies moving than just going through talking points.

“This is the place where girls can really work on teamwork, sportswomanship and problem-solving,” Krandel shared. “It allows the girls to make a stronger connection to the curriculum as they see it come into play.”

Believing In A Better Future

With the goal to serve as many young girls as possible year-round and long-term, the organization has expanded to include a Teen Squad program for high school girls, where participants attend leader-to-leader interviews to explore career paths and earn scholarship money for college.

“Our goal is to help girls realize their own strength and leadership to rise above their circumstances and become game-changers in their communities,” Krandel said.

In introducing these vulnerable young girls to new life experiences and resources, Krandel and the rest of the GITG leaders are giving girls the accessibility and power to achieve whatever they put their mind to.

“If we prove to girls that what they do and say matters, then they will believe in themselves enough to go out and be a game-changer,” Krandel said.