Heather Freeman, MPH
Founder, Gutsy Girl Club
As I described on a previous post, the internet is one of the easiest ways to connect with someone else with similar interests and views. Heather Freeman of the Gutsy Girl Club reached out to me after reading one of my blog interviews. After checking out her website and understanding the concept of how she was impacting the world around her, I knew that it would be a great addition and offer a unique perspective – empowerment. Empowerment is essential in sustaining new behaviors and programs long after funding resources have dried out. Empowerment passes the torch to individuals and allows them to want it for themselves. It shifts from motivation from extrinsic to intrinsic; it places ownership and accountability back into the individual’s hands. Her concepts parallel the views Paulo Freire advocated for: an interactive form of education and social justice for everyone.
Now to my questions for Heather!
Me: How did it all start? Where did you get the idea from?
Heather: The Gutsy Girl Club (GGC) was inspired by my own personal journey and struggle with self-confidence. At a very young age I had a strong sense for who I was. I loved to laugh, run, be outdoors, and simply enjoy the world and people around me. But as I got older that high level of confidence started to crumble and I found myself having a difficult time finding my way. My parents divorced when I was in 5th grade and my mother, whom I needed the most was caught up in her own swirl of mess, unable to help me navigate through the precarious teen years ahead. On the inside, I felt my life spinning out of control. However I didn’t dare show this vulnerability to the outside world. Instead, I hid my insecurities behind the one thing I was well known for – my smile. I made my way through the next critical season in my life not letting on of my inner truths & struggles to anyone.
As difficult as this early experience was, I learned from it and slowly found my way back to myself. With the help of a few key superheroes who showed up in just the right time, I began the journey to reconnect with my confidence. After spending over 10 years working in health promotions I now help others reconnect with their true confidence through the GGC so they too can experience the joys of taking the lead in their health and wellness.
Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?
H: We are all superheroes, sometimes our capes just need a little mending.
The moment my first daughter Bailey was placed in my arms, I experienced a huge shift – an “Ah ha” moment so to speak. Cradled in my arms, I looked down at her and realized I was in a very powerful position in terms of her survival. This little girl was helpless and at the most simplest level of being; her life depended upon me. Regardless of my own experiences as a child, my daughter depended on me to be her superhero. From this moment forward, I was not only responsible for myself, but I was also responsible for nurturing my daughter’s health until she was ready to be her own superhero. I also realized that survival wasn’t good enough. I wanted her to thrive in this world. I wanted her to have the most magical and extraordinary life. I wholeheartedly believe every mother has this desire for her newborn child. I truly believe that we all want a life for our children that is better than our own. While holding my daughter in my arms, I realized that was my moment of truth. There have been many moments where this truth has been challenged, but I continue to make the choice to do things differently. There is not a day that goes by when things don’t get hard, when my work asks me to stretch and go beyond what I think I can give. It is within these moments that I remember that little girl in my arms and that original moment of truth. This is what inspires me to help the millions of other little girls out in the world who deserve the same opportunity for an extraordinary life.
Me: What do you think it will take for our society to view health more seriously? As in, why is health lower in priority to careers and education and relationships?
H: Wow, what a great question. While we typically tend to get caught up in the complexity of the current situation of our society’s health, I believe the answer is quite simple and comes down to a simple choice. When we choose to say to yes to health we make a mental shift, a shift which precedes a behavioral shift of doing more of the things that support health and wellness. The choice is available to each of us many, many times each day. If more people choose to say yes to health more often, then not only does the individual experience greater health in their own life, but it also impacts the people in their life in positive ways. This creates a ripple effect which indirectly affect communities in which they live and ultimately the greater world.
Me: What are some important insights that the attendees get from your camps? What are some that you and other staff members observe?
H: The Gutsy Girls Empowerment Camp is one of my favorite programs because evidence shows that by the age of 9 a girl’s self-esteem has peaked. Which means that during the critical years of emotional development that lie ahead of her, she is at a disadvantage and is less likely to be able to make the smartest choices for her safety, health, and well-being. The Gutsy Girls Empowerment Camp is all about increasing a girl’s self-esteem and confidence before this critical period hits by seeing her for all that she is and affirming her emerging talents and passions. One of the biggest insights campers get is ‘hey, they get me here’ and “I am accepted because of who I am.” Girls of the Gutsy Girls Camp don’t have to act perfect, they don’t have to do art that looks like it should be hung in a museum and they don’t have to say the perfect things. Girls at camp get to be kids, create wildly, and share themselves freely and honestly. Moms love having a place their daughters can go to for this kind of support. And through ongoing conversations with moms about the Gutsy Girls Empowerment Camp, I’ve learned that moms want to be a part of the action, too. That’s why we are bringing the fun to both moms and their daughters through our GGC activities that are starting up this year. These Club activities will give moms the chance to join in on the fun while at the same time strengthen the bond between her and her gutsy girl.
Me: What are the current needs in your city as they relate to social determinants of health (ie SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)? Social determinants of health are any factors that directly or indirectly affect health. For example, being homeless could cause stress and malnutrition which could drastically affect one’s health.
H: While the GGC is growing to serve a national audience, our home base is in Tolland, CT. Tolland is a community, which based on the Health Equity Index (a web-based assessment tool developed by the Connecticut Association of Directors of Health) rates average or above average on the social determinants of health (civic involvement, community engagement, economic security, education, employment and housing). There are however groups of people within this community who for instance do not have equal access to healthcare and who experience transportation and housing issues.
The GGC is committed to building on the strengths of this community by empowering girls of all ages to take charge of their health. A gutsy girl who believes in her power is able to confidently make healthy choices which not only serve her, but benefit the people around her and the community she lives in.