Go, Girlie Girls: Anita Barker’s mentoring program for girls has a brand new home

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, June 1, 2023

On the corner of Common and East School streets, Southwest Louisiana’s first all-girls youth facility opened its doors.

The Girls Rock Facility will house the Girlie Girls Mentoring Program – founded on June 1, 2013. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held Thursday on the 10-year anniversary of the program’s creation.

Anita Barker, founder, CEO and mentor of Girlie Girls, said this was a happy coincidence. The completion of the building faced setbacks, postponing the completion of the facility until last week.

Email newsletter signup

“What better day to have our ribbon cutting ceremony,” she said. “It just fell all in place.”

Ten years ago, her one goal was “simply to make a difference.” She was inspired to create the mentorship program to provide local girls with resources she needed when she was younger. “When I was younger, I had low-self esteem,” she recalled. “I always said that I wanted to give back to female youth just to encourage, inspire and educate them to dream big and know that they’re beautiful… You don’t have to have long, pretty hair, you don’t have to be a size one, just be who God created you to be.”

Barker’s program is dedicated to promoting healthy academic and social habits in young girls, with the three tenants of Girlie Girls being “Inspire, Educate, Motivate.”

During Girlie Girl’s first years of operation, programming was not centralized. Barker hosted events for members in church halls, school cafeterias, local parks and libraries.

As the program grew, a hub for the wide array of programming that Girlie Girls offers became a need.

The Girls Rock Facility will aid in programming expansions, support  its after-school program, offer tutoring sessions, education and STEM workshops, weekly seminars and, of course, movie night.

These programs and sessions focus anything and everything a tween or teen might face, with topics such as bullying, self-defense, hygiene, career readiness and  financial readiness.

One such session is called Girl Talk. Barker said this is her favorite activity to host because it allows her to create deeper bonds with the members, and gives them an opportunity to connect with their peers.

“The girls come and we chit-chat. We talk about the latest happenings and what’s going on.”

Kaite Little, board member and owner of Intuitive Fitness, said that Girlie Girls aims to nurture social awareness in the girls. “This is an organization with the potential to make a national impact by empowering girls to make individual as well as social change,” she explained. “Young girls are invited to share their views and values in an effort to create viable solutions through social change, projects and address issues that girls face within their community.”

She said the mentoring program allows girls to “break negative cycles for a lifetime” and provides solutions that require “civic, political and cultural insight” to create generational change for their daughters and their daughters’ daughters.

Ultimately, the Girls Rock Facility is a safe haven. “This is a home away from home for the girls.”

The facility features two specialized rooms: The tech room and the hygiene room.

The tech room houses state of the art technology that allows members to explore STEM topics. Here, high-schoolers can apply for college or jobs as well.

Preparation and encouragement for higher education is a priority for the girls in the program. Barker said that throughout the summer, they are brought on tours at colleges throughout Louisiana. Soon, the girls will visit McNeese and Sowela. In the past, they have all visited LSU, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette amd Southern University.

She estimated that 90 percent of program graduates attend these schools.

The support continues after they age out. Every member that pursues a higher education at a four-year university or trade school receives a scholarship.

The Hygiene room is unique in that it is open to all girls in the community, not just members. The room is filled with hygiene supplies, from tampons to feminine hygiene washes to bath bombs.

Girls in need call the facility and fill out a form that serves as a “grocery list.”

“All female youth in our community will have access to hygiene projects free of charge, no questions asked,” she said.

Membership is available in two programs: Tweens for girls ages 8-11 and teens for girls ages 12-18.

Currently there are 35 members. With the opening of the Girls Rock Facility, the member cap will be raised to 50 members. Barker said their waiting list is over 100 names long. After the announcement of the building construction, Girlie Girls was flooded with applications.

The progression of Girlie Girls was always in Barker’s eye. “It’s truly amazing that my vision is now reality.”

New member registration is available at www.girliegirls.org. Any questions can be directed to Barker at girliegirlsmp@gmail.com.