A group of elementary school girls discovered how their voice can make a difference after presenting their observations about the Brainerd community to the Chattanooga City Council earlier this year.
The group of 13 girls, ages 9 to 11, had participated in Discovery Leadership, a program run by Girls Inc. of Chattanooga. Last fall, the girls met after school at Brainerd United Methodist Church.
As part of the course on leadership, the girls took community walks, identifying the neighborhood's strengths along with potentials for improvement.
For example, the girls liked that the area had playgrounds and seemed to be family-friendly. However, they also noticed there was a problem with cars speeding, as well as a lack of sidewalks.
In December, the girls presented their findings to an audience that included Chattanooga City Councilman Russell Gilbert, who represents District 5 where BUMC is located. Gilbert was so impressed that he invited them to speak to the entire city council, which they did in late January.
"The council was impressed with how they spoke, how they challenged us to do more in that area," Gilbert said.
The girls got a standing ovation, said O'Kitta "Summer" Elliott, instructor of the Discover Leadership program.
But the biggest show of support is only just now beginning, as the girls work with city officials to address some of the problems they identified.
Gilbert said stopping the rampant speeding is feasible, and he plans to address it moving forward. While the lack of sidewalks is more difficult to address because of limited funds, he said, Blythe Bailey, an administrator for the Chattanooga Department of Transportation, was also impressed by the girls' report, and will be meeting with them this semester to discuss future plans for sidewalks in the area.
The girls also decided they wanted to do something on their own, so this semester they will be working to build a Little Free Library in the neighborhood. The concept allows people to take or leave books as they please. City Hall and Girls Inc. have donated books to help, Elliott said.
"This is what I tried to reiterate to the girls: If there's something that you care about, something that you're passionate about, stand up for it, and there are people and resources in this community that will help you," said Brooke Satterfield, one of the local leaders with whom the girls worked as part of Discovery Leadership. Satterfield works with the Mayor's Council for Women.
"Our children are going to be our future, and we're leaving the city in good hands," Gilbert said.
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