Otterbein Students Help Middle School Girls Grow Confidence

Posted Mar 29, 2022

By Madelyn Nelson ’23

Otterbein develops leaders on campus, but the real impact is felt when those leaders take their skills into the community. Otterbein women leaders volunteer their time with middle school girls through Girls’ Club, a mentoring program through the Center for Community Engagement (CCE).

Emily Steinberg
Emily Steinberg

Girls’ Club was established in 2011 as a weekly mentorship program at Walnut Springs Middle School in Westerville. Through the program, middle school girls can choose to spend their study hall learning valuable life lessons from Otterbein female leaders.  

Senior public relations major Emily Steinberg has been involved with Girls’ Club for four years. She started as a volunteer, and now serves as one of the co-leaders of the program. Junior Julia Gott and sophomore Ashni Patel also serve as co-leaders. 

“Community is the first word that comes to mind when I think of this campus community,” said Steinberg. “Everybody on campus is friendly and supportive, but also community in a sense of our ties with the Westerville community.”  

The program welcomes an average of 12-15 girls per week and teaches important lessons through discussion, an activity, and reflection. Each Girls’ Club session starts with an icebreaker exercise, then goes into a lesson covering topics like mental health, confidence, bullying, and body image. 

“Programs like Girls’ Club shows what kind of students come to Otterbein — students that give back to their community, want to make a difference, and care about the future of these kids’ lives.”  

Girls’ Club is currently working on a book club featuring A Place at the Table by Laura Shovan and Saadia Faruqi. The book tells the story of two middle school girls from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and struggles at home, and tells how they become friends and learn about one another. Girls’ Club members and leaders read sections of the book and then relate it to the girls’ lives during a group discussion. 

Otterbein leaders act as role models for the middle schoolers and become a consistent person in their lives. Over time they create connections, and the girls confide in the leaders. 

Steinberg shared a memory of an interaction she had with a middle-school girl this year. One lesson focused on powerful female leaders, and after the discussion, the leaders encouraged the girls to think of the female role models in their own lives, and how they had impacted them. 

One student suddenly became emotional and confided in Steinberg saying that she felt like she did not have any female role models in her life. Steinberg explained that the Otterbein girls are her role models and can be there for her. 

“I told her, ‘That’s why you come to Girls’ Club because the volunteers and the Otterbein girls are your mentors,’” said Steinberg. “That was a big moment for me this past year, it made me realize this is why I do what I do.” 

The program continues every school year, so the leaders have watched the girls learn and grow throughout middle school. 

“We definitely see them, even in the span of a semester, grow and change and build their own confidence,” said Steinberg.

Julia Gott
Julia Gott

Co-leader Julia Gott has been involved with Girls’ Club since fall of 2021 and has seen tremendous growth in the middle schoolers during the weekly activities. 

“The biggest takeaway is the conversations I have with the girls,” said Gott. “Even though the things we do with them are fun, deep down it has a purpose, and I can slowly see the wheels turning for them.” 

Girls’ Club teaches life lessons to the middle schoolers and leaders alike. 

“I’ve learned that strength is defined and shown in many different ways, and never to assume anything about anyone,” said Gott. “It is important to be empathetic with your words and actions.”

Ashni Patel
Ashni Patel

Ashni Patel is a biochemistry and molecular biology major from Dublin, Ohio, and is another co-leader of the program. Patel also writes the curriculum for Girls’ Club. 

“When developing the curriculum, I spent a lot of time looking at past themes that were discussed,” said Patel.  

“I also used topics that fit under the theme, and topics I thought especially pertained to the girls today. Some of the topics included embracing differences, bullying, and the impacts of social media,” said Patel. 

The college girls act as mentors for the girls, but also represent the University and the type of students it produces though its curriculum and off-campus opportunities. 

“I think it says a lot [about Otterbein] that Walnut Springs was so open to partnering with Otterbein, that they can trust us, and that we’re a solid organization that produces wonderful students that they want in their middle schoolers’ lives,” said Steinberg. 

Otterbein students take classes, work, play sports, and join organizations on campus, but also leave a legacy in the community by impacting young people. Their real impact is felt through community service and their dedication to making a difference in the lives of others. 

“It’s definitely rewarding to stay involved in something when you know that your work is making a difference in these girls lives and is something that they will take with them for the rest of their lives,” said Steinberg. 

“I tell them everything I wish I knew as a middle schooler,” said Patel. “This gives me a chance to reflect on my own life and to pay attention to what really matters.”