Denise Smith knows first hand that competition and insecurity can tear a friendship apart.
That’s why the Vancouver Island University graduate founded Purple Girlzillas – a girls-only program aimed at fostering healthy relationships and self-esteem.
“If you have self-worth and self-confidence and self-esteem then you will be able to deal with things around you whether it’s friendships or relationships or career conflicts,” Smith said.
“Based on my own experience and the research that I’ve done in school, I just knew this was a need in society.”
Purple Girlzillas, which ramped up in 2010 and runs through the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Vancouver Island, brings together 30 girls between the ages of nine and 13 every Friday night during the school year to do crafts, outdoor activities and play games. It’s lighthearted fun, with serious undertones, according to Smith.
One activity they’ve done, for example, had the girls changing a Barbie doll to give her a more realistic image, like padding the doll’s stomach and changing her hair colour, she said.
The program was awarded most innovative by the Boys and Girls Club in 2012 and Smith, an aspiring teacher, said she can see the concept gaining traction in the education system as a way to develop the whole child.
“In here, if we are having fun and all of a sudden we slip in something [to] learn, they are ready. They are eager, they are not afraid to risk their opinions. I just think that would be such a valuable environment to foster within the schools,” she said.
Ten-year-old Alex Hornby has been going to the program for the last two years and says she’s loved it from the first introduction. The leaders are nice and she’s had the chance to meet and connect with new friends, she said.
It’s also helped boost her self-esteem.
“I was really insecure because people used to call me fat … [The program] helped me figure out that I may be bigger than other people but I am not fat. It doesn’t even matter what those people call me now.”