GirlVentures was founded by two Bay Area women who met at the Harvard School of Education and studied the transition from childhood to adolescence among girls. They found that girls faced multiple emotional, physical and social challenges and that underserved girls from urban, low-income communities in particular need extra support and mentorship to foster the self-confidence, perseverance, and sense of community needed for academic, social and career success. Outdoor education, they found, and single-gender outdoor education in particular, fosters the positive qualities that girls need in order to face the challenges posed by the transitions of the teenage years.
Launched in 1997, in our first year of programming the organization had a $68,000 budget and served just 25 girls in San Francisco. More than a decade ago, we transitioned from a founder-led start-up to a thriving and robust nonprofit serving approximately 135 girls across the Bay Area annually.
In 2015 the Great Outdoors Lab, created by the Sierra Club and the Greater Good Science Center, found that immersion in nature improves stress levels, increases feelings of curiosity and life purpose, and encourages pro-environment behavior. Outdoor time in both summer and after school programs can significantly boost academic outcomes, particularly among children growing up in low-income families. Learning in nature is associated with lower dropout rates, improved performance on college entrance exams, and, as it is interdisciplinary, helps students become better real-world problem solvers.
Girls, especially those from low-income, urban environments, often face barriers to outdoor activities: a lack of access to safe environments, transportation, and the economic means to participate in fee-based programs. Outdoor Foundation’s 2014 "Special Report on Youth" found that males participate in outdoor recreation at a higher rate than females, and minority youth are underrepresented in outdoor recreation, with 79% of outdoor youth participants being Caucasian.
Activities in the natural environment also have been shown to reduce negative emotions such as anger, sadness, and fatigue, making access and participation in our outdoor adventure programs that much more important for the girls we serve.
Studies demonstrate that single-gender programs for youth are essential to creating an emotionally safe space and encourage positive relationship building. Having small groups of girls-only programs that discuss sensitive topics and gender- related issues are especially important for participants to feel secure and not judged.
All-girl programming often provides a more supportive space with less criticism from boys, additional opportunities to learn new skills, and extra attention from instructors. These groups are not only more effective for improving physical activity; girls enjoy them more as well. Focusing on girls at this developmental stage is especially important considering they are more likely than boys to experience a decline in confidence and negative body image issues, and tend to be less assertive. Research also indicates that because dating, violence and sexual health are often gendered issues, single-gender programs are necessary for successful discussion.
Despite the need for our programs, there are only a handful of organizations across the country that provides services similar to ours. Several organizations serve girls, however GirlVentures uniquely provides a combination of outdoor adventure and education, mentorship, and curriculum.