Written By Breyana Stewart
RICHMOND, Va. — Build confidence, teach valuable lessons and provide a safe space were the goals Virginia Commonwealth University student Jackie Santarpia had in mind when she decided she wanted to start a club.
After a year of planning and collaborating, she was able to make that happen.
Girls Like Me at VCU is a new student organization that works to help young women build their self-esteem and self-efficacy, according to Santarpia. The club began this fall, and it stems from its parent organization, Girls Like Me, where she has been working for the past three years.
The founding president had been working with the parent organization – which mentors girls ages 11 through 17 – for about two years when they decided they also wanted to reach out to young adults.
“Self-esteem doesn’t stop at 17,” Santarpia explained. “We wanted to build a connection and start outreach for young adult women.”
With the help of Girls Like Me’s executive director, Déja Coley, and Santarpia’s best friend –and now club vice president – Kendra Diaz, Girls Like Me at VCU was able to begin this year, Santarpia explained.
Coley founded Girls Like Me in 2016, according to its website. The nonprofit provides girls and young women with education, mentorship and resources in order to help them reach their goals and achieve self-actualization.
The name and decision to start the organization stemmed from Coley’s personal experiences in the past.
As a teenager, Coley had challenges with her self-esteem and allowed others’ opinions of her to influence her behavior and how she felt about herself, she said. During her senior year at Old Dominion University, she decided she wanted to help young girls who experience the same struggles.
“I don’t want girls to have to go through the same thing I went through because it’s painful,” Coley said. “I want girls to understand that they don’t have to shrink for people and be someone different.”
Coley hired Santarpia in 2020 through Girls Like Me’s partnership with the federal work-study program, according to Santarpia. The chapter president had her own struggles with self-esteem and self-confidence.
While working closely with Coley, she began applying the values she was learning at work to her everyday life. This helped her realize her self-worth, and she wanted to help other college students experience the same thing.
The university chapter is not like other clubs, according to Charity Adusei, chapter member and program assistant. They aim to dig below the surface and find a deeper understanding of themselves.
“It’s helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses,” said Adusei.
The most rewarding part of founding Girls Like Me at VCU has been witnessing students’ reactions to it, explained Santarpia.
“Hearing them tell me how much they needed something like this really meant a lot,” Santarpia said.
In its first semester on campus, Girls Like Me at VCU has gained 33 members and hosted four events, according to Santarpia. The student organization recently co-hosted a holiday celebration with its parent organization on Saturday Dec. 9.
The event was attended by the college members of Girls Like Me at VCU and the mentees of Girls Like Me. The attendees participated in activities such as ornament decorating and snowflake cutting. The goal of the event was for the college members to destress before final exams and to close out the first half of the parent program’s year.
Next semester, the club plans to host a resume-building event and a workshop focusing on personal values, said the president. They are also in the process of seeking funding and donations from outside sources.
Students can join Girls Like Me at VCU through RamsConnect or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The club can also be found on Instagram at glmatvcu.