• 70°

LifeSaver Outreach promotes positive self image

Girls’ mentoring program open to all PA middle, high schools

Cynthia Lorder looks the picture of confidence with two large yellow sunflower clips in her hair, wearing a shirt that reads, “Be Your #Selfie. Everyone else is taken.”

But Cynthia says her confidence was hard-won after years of insecurities and negative self talk. One of 14 mentors in LifeSaver Outreach — more commonly called the “You Go Girl!” mentoring program  — Cynthia frequently addresses similar fears and feelings of inadequacy among Port Arthur’s middle and high school girl population.

Last Tuesday, Cynthia donned her “#Selfie” shirt to spark a candid conversation about self-love, self-image and positive self-esteem in a room of 17 girls at Memorial High School.

“When I was in high school, I avoided mirrors because I wasn’t pleased with who I was,” Cynthia told the mentees. “When I was growing up, my mom didn’t have a job with medical insurance. We got the shots and the updates from the free clinic. But I never really smiled, because I was embarrassed — we couldn’t go to the dentist. But even though I never smiled, I didn’t let it stop me from doing what I wanted to do.

“Don’t let anything stop you from being who you are. Don’t let it stop you — if you have a flaw — from being all that you can be. Today we’re going to talk about those things we think are holding us back. It could be something on the outside or something on the inside. What are the things you don’t like about yourself? What about the things you do like?”

The mentees were quick to think of things they didn’t like. One student said she wanted “white people hair — well, straight hair.” One student shared Cynthia’s reservations about smiling because of a chipped tooth. One student smacked her hands on her thighs, saying she wished she could change her “bottom half.”

“I wish I could change my attitude and my way of thinking,” a student said. “If I know I’m doing something bad, I’ll still do it. But I’m working on making better choices.”

Cynthia asked how many of the girls were holding onto bad choices they’ve made — about half of the mentees raised their hands.

Terri Prescott, director of LifeSaver Outreach, more commonly called the "You Go Girl!" mentoring program.

Terri Prescott, director of LifeSaver Outreach, more commonly called the “You Go Girl!” mentoring program.

“I want to address that, because you’ve got to understand everybody makes mistakes,” Terri Prescott, LifeSaver Outreach director, said. “How many of you know you can stop, turn around and redirect your life? Let’s say you made one mistake— you made a reputation for yourself — and you slept with a lot of boys. How many of you know you don’t always have to be that girl?

“You can stop and turn around, and you don’t always have to make yourself feel guilty. You don’t have to stay in that situation. You know, ‘This girl used to sleep with a lot of boys, but she came to the realization that these boys were just using her. They don’t even value her. She turned her life around.’ Don’t let guilt make you think you can’t make better choices for yourself.”

Terri — who partners with the Port Arthur Independent School District but serves all of Port Arthur’s female student population through LifeSaver Outreach — unknowingly mirrored a sentiment PAISD Superintendent Mark Porterie expressed at a town hall meeting in December.

“Some of our students are parents themselves. It’s getting to the point where we need a daycare in our schools,” he said. “We’ve got students that are married in school with children, but they can’t come to school because they can’t find a babysitter. We’re trying, and we’re thinking of ways to help every student — including the ones who’ve made ‘mistakes’ or gone down a road we wouldn’t put them on. Yes, those students deserve a real chance at life, too.”

Terri said “one mistake does not have to mean a ruined life” is a theme of many of the LifeSaver Outreach meetings.

“We’re really more like a Big Sister, Little Sister program,” she said. “We’ve had some student mothers. I know of one, for sure, in the program now. We talk to them about teen pregnancy and the reality of it.

“With this program — for all of our topics — we’re hoping to grab our girls at an earlier age. But we’re not just talking about sex and abstinence, we’re talking about the whole individual. Hopefully out of all our speakers, they get something out of at least one of us.”

Terri said LifeSaver Outreach has enough mentors to rotate them, bringing each one in “every three months or so” — the same amount of time it takes some of the mentees to graduate the program.

“It’s a mixture of girls — girls who are court ordered, girls who are referred through PAISD or Bob Hope, and girls who found out about us through the community and signed themselves up. We have 30 girls in our program right now.

“We started a year and a half ago, and we’ve graduated about 40 girls so far. Our success rate after the girls graduate — because we keep in contact with the parents afterward — is about 96 percent.”

Terri said a large part of LifeSaver Outreach’s success rate is due to the generosity of In Need Christian Counseling — who supplies therapists to host private counseling sessions with the girls who need “a little more help.” The sessions are funded through sponsors, donations and a one-time registration fee of $25 per mentee.

“No matter what brought them here, we have to address the underlying issues — or the problems, the insecurities, the behavioral issues are going to continue to present themselves,” Terri said. “We actually have a waiting list of girls that need to be counseled. Most of our girls are middle to low income, so we want to make sure we get them where they need to go. We have to make sure we heal the whole girl.”

For more information about the LifeSaver Outreach girls’ mentoring program, call Terri at (409) 549-8781.

Twitter: @crhenderson90