You might have seen them selling jam at Thursdays on Third. You might have seen them pulling weeds at the Community Blooms garden. But this group of local young women has a lot going on behind the scenes as well. They're called Growing and Going, a girl-led entrepreneurship and leadership opportunity, and they're making serious strides in the community and having fun while they're at it.
Eriann Faris of the Private Industry Council helps facilitate the group, along with support from Western Community Action and the Marshall Area Financial Empowerment Collaborative.
"At PIC we go to the alternative school (Marshall East Campus Learning Alternative) a lot and work with the students about what they'll do after high school," Faris said.
Alysia Rupp, right, of Growing and Going does some weeding at the Community Blooms garden along with
program co-coordinator and Big Buddies County Coordinator Alicia Peterson.
She said some of the young women there had taken a leadership course and were interested in expanding on what they had learned.
At the same time, a coworker told Faris about a grant opportunity through GirlsBEST (Building Economic Success Together), which supports "girl-driven programs" that "knock down roadblocks to girls' future economic success."
"(I thought) 'this is what they're talking about... There's got to be a way to combine all this together,'"?Faris said.
Faris said that high school graduation rates in Lyon County are significantly lower for females than for males, and teen pregnancy rates are high.
"We need to show girls that there's more out there," said Faris.
Growing and Going was born with the first meeting taking place in September 2010. Faris said the group has included 23 girls ages 14 to 18 throughout the year, with a core group of about seven who have committed the most time.
Briana Hooper is one participant who has been with the group since the beginning.
"We've grown a lot," said Hooper. "We've grown into a family."
During the school year, Faris and other professional mentors met with the girls twice a month during their lunch hours at school. Hooper said it was a challenge at first, because the girls themselves had to create the group's mission, direction and business plan.
"It seems like it would be easy, but it actually took a lot of planning," Hooper said.
"They decided the who, what, where, when and how," Faris said.
Eventually the girls chose to make and sell strawberry jam, but the decision was just the beginning. The girls picked the strawberries themselves from a farm near Westbrook operated by Sunny Ruthchild. Then it was time to choose the recipe.
"The girls each submitted recipes from home or grandma or online," Faris said. "We got together and made small amounts of each and did taste testing."
The group was able to use the Marshall Middle School Family and Consumer Sciences kitchen to do the cooking and canning.
As part of the project, the girls learned about customer service and marketing.
"We worked as a team to come up with the logo and the colors," said Hooper.
They chose to sell the jam at Thursdays on Third in Marshall, and sales have been successful with only a handful of jars remaining, Faris said.
The girls are still deciding how to use their profits, Faris said, but are considering putting some money back into the program for next year, and some toward a scholarship that could be awarded to a group member.
While the girls have learned a lot through their jam sales, the project was only part of their experience. Faris said the girls have participated in college readiness and career exploration activities. They've toured the campuses of Minnesota State University, Mankato, St. Cloud State and Southwest Minnesota State. They've completed a six session financial literacy course as well as classes on health and nutrition.
Another large part of their project is their work with the Community Blooms garden of Western Community Action. Faris said the girls have been part of the project from the beginning, helping to plan the space.
"I think a big piece is that they got in on the Community Blooms advisory board and got to help shape the mission and the vision as a whole," said Faris.
Since then, the team has showed up regularly to plant, weed, water, harvest and learn. Produce from the garden is shared between volunteers and the food shelf. Faris recently found out that GirlsBEST has awarded them funding for another year, and is excited to see what direction the new group will take.
"The next girls that come, we'll see what they want to do," Faris said.
The group is always accepting new members, and will be recruiting at the Sounds of Summer on Thursday.
Hooper said recruitment has been slow because other girls might look from the outside and think, "Who wants to make jam?" But she said there's much more to the experience than meets the eye.
"We sit down and talk about our life experiences, what we go through on a daily basis. We encourage each other as a team," she said.
"The leaders are like sisters," Hooper added. "We can look up to them and talk to them... I think that's one of the best things about it."
Hooper herself will not be part of the group next year. She graduated in May and will be starting as a student at Minnesota State University, Mankato this month. But she looks forward to seeing the group continue to grow.
"I don't think jam is where we're going to stop," Hooper said. "We'll definitely accomplish more."
For more information or to join Growing and Going, visit www.swmnpic.org or call Eriann Faris at 537-6236.