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All About Grace

by Josephine Cusumano

Cherry Hill’s Donna Romani is empowering young girls ages 9-11 by helping them discover their passions through her program, Grace in the Mud. It provides multi-faceted educational experiences to better girls and their communities through activities that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

Whether that’s taking a CrossFit class, learning about banking, medicine or how to crochet or grow a garden, the girls can realize their future endeavors and get the tools they need to further explore them. After a year since its inception, Romani is seeing a change in her girls and she tells us why.

How is GITM helping young girls?
The program serves to empower girls through positive identity formation and character development as they’re approaching one the most difficult and rapidly changing times in their overall development as women.

How is the community helping?
We partnered with business owners and professionals [to] provide these outside of the classroom learning experiences for the girls with [their] interests in mind. The idea is to keep the providers relevant to where the girls live, giving them at diverse menu of people, choices and connections so they can go back and maybe [make it] their first job.

What’s your favorite part?
We commit as a group to do our best and we show up. That’s what I think is key in developing passions. [These girls] have such a limited scope of what they thought they wanted [and now] their exposure is flowering.

What changes have you seen so far?
[One girl] was extremely shy and almost reluctant to get involved in anything [when she started]. She went back to school and her teacher wrote a letter to her mom saying she can’t believe it’s the same little girl. She started a crocheting club at [her] junior high school. She really blossomed in a short period of time.

What is the future of Grace in the Mud?
I would love to see this program grow and be a model for programs like Girls Scouts of America, Big Brothers and Big Sisters. I think [it] could be replicated and get into elementary and high school usage.

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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 2 (May, 2016).
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