Menomonee Falls — "I hate you." One day in science class seventh-grader Carrie Severson was shook to her core when she saw a classmate mouth these words to her. It was not an isolated incident, but for Severson it was the one she remembers most vividly because of what happened the next morning.
"I woke up absolutely certain that she was going to beat me up," said Severson, who proceeded to pack up a piece of her jewelry to use as a bribe for protection. When she got to school that morning, she provided a bracelet to a classmate whom she deemed to be the toughest girl in school, in exchange for ensuring she didn't get beat up. It was the first time, but it wouldn't be the last. "That is how I survived seventh grade."
Looking back, there is so much Severson said she would change about that whole experience, starting with having the confidence to do more than survive. Severson has set about to change experiences like that for girls now through the work of her nonprofit organization Severson Sisters.
"The really disturbing part is that was my reaction, that was what I thought was my answer," she said. "I should have had the confidence to tell somebody, and I didn't. I felt like I was in this alone, I felt like that was my problem to deal with, like I was in this sinking pit I couldn't possibly dig out from."
So she didn't. By the time she started at Menomonee Falls High School, she started her mornings with bouts of dry heaving and struggled daily with fluctuations in her weight.
"Not only did I lack the confidence I needed to do something about it, but I feared it could get worse if I did," she said, adding that the potential for repercussions is one of the biggest struggles girls encounter in bullying situations.
It took time, but all of this changed for Severson, who ultimately gained the confidence to do something about it in a big way.
It occurred to her as she did what she called some "serious soul searching" years later, prompted by an epically bad day at the marketing agency she worked for at the time.
Making an impact
"I always knew I was meant to make a big impact on the world, so I knew I was ready for my next thing in life," she said. "I just didn't know what that was."
Two years later, Super Girls was born. At the age of 32, Carrie pooled together her savings and 401(K) dollars to create Severson Sisters, a organization devoted to promoting empowerment and improved self-esteem. Headquartered in her current hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, Severson Sisters provides programs and services to embrace their inner "super girl."
"Our mission is to inspire girls to live their lives as their authentic, awesome super self, because in reality every girl is a super girl," Severson said. "You just have to figure out what sets you apart and embrace it with everything you are."
Built upon six core principles such as respect, acceptance and body image, the Super Girls program incorporates activities that equip participants with self-esteem-building tools, tips on how to develop and maintain healthy relationships with their peers, and action plans on how to handle bullying situations they encounter.
Power Words, which requires the girls to identify positive characteristics about themselves and wear that as a name tag for the day, is a personal favorite activity of Severson's.
"A lot of times girls have a hard time understanding their strengths because they're comparing themselves to other girls," she said. "They need to be individual and celebrate that individuality artistically and creatively."
This is one of several activities that will be included in the program, which will soon be available in the Menomonee Falls area. Severson held a pilot program at Just Kiln' Time in April, when she was also in town training Menomonee Falls' own facilitator Lisa Mackey.
"I am truthfully honored to be a part of something like this," said Mackey, who has known Carrie for several years. "As soon as I heard about it, I told her I wanted to help however I can."
Upon completing the facilitator training, Mackey said she can't wait to get started leading the 12-week course to begin this summer. The exact dates have not yet been determined for the $125 course, but classes will be once a week beginning the second or third week in June. The fall Parks and Recreation course catalog also will feature a course, likely in August.
"I have come to a place in my life where I have confidence in myself," Mackey said. "I want to share that with these girls. I want them to see they can get out there in the world, you can do whatever you want in life."
This is one of a few things Becky Thompson and her 10-year-old daughter Audrey took from the session they attended in Menomonee Falls in April.
"When I went to the Super Girls thing, it gave me the confidence to make things better in whatever ways I can," said Audrey, who is in fifth grade at Shady Lane Elementary. Audrey has been dealing with some issues at school this year to the point her mother was close to pulling her out and trying home school as another option.
"It was to the point where (Audrey) was in the kitchen sobbing," said Becky. "Her particular class has had such an issue with bullies I was ready to pull her out in the middle of the school year to home-school her."
Instead she and Audrey attended the Super Girls class in April and both feel the better for it.
"You can keep telling a kid the same thing and nothing will change," said Becky. "Give them the tools to make a difference, and change will happen."
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: Super Girls program
WHEN: once per week beginning in June
WHERE: Just Kiln' Time,
COST: $125 for the 12-week course
CONTACT: Lisa Mackey, (262) 408-0790
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