MARSHALL - After she won a modeling contest on an MTV program, Anna Johnson was offered a contract with an agency in New York City and a chance to be in Cosmo Girl.
But she chose not to take the offer because she didn't need to put herself in what she calls a toxic atmosphere.
Instead, Johnson is taking what she learned during her experiences and had started a program at the Marshall Area YMCA for girls in middle school, covering such topics as decision-making, inner beauty and self-esteem.
Photo by Cindy Votruba
Southwest Minnesota State University student Anna Johnson, left, started Breakaway, a group for middle school girls at the Marshall Area YMCA.
Johnson, a junior speech communication/psychology major at Southwest Minnesota State University, coordinated Breakaway, which meets for two hours every Monday at the Y.
When she was in middle school and her first couple of years of high school in New London, Johnson said she was having a hard time.
"I was at the bottom of the social ladder," Johnson said. She said she was at a point where she didn't like herself and wanted to learn how to start liking herself.
When she was a junior in high school, MTV's "Made" had a casting call at her high school. Johnson won the competition, receiving a one-year modeling contract with a New York agency and a spread in Cosmo Girl.
"I turned down the contract," Johnson said. "It was OK, I learned what I needed."
But through that process, Johnson met Julie Carrier, a nationally-recognized motivational speaker on healthy and successful choices for teens, girls and young people.
"By learning from her and learning from her example as my confidence coach, I was able to come out of my shell," Johnson said. "I found that to be the most valuable lesson."
Johnson said she approached Cindy Rosa, associate executive director of the Marshall Area YMCA, with her idea for Breakaway. She worked from December of last year and all through the summer before kicking off the program in August.
With Breakaway, Johnson creates games that bring home a message for the girls, helping them with goal-setting, building confidence and choosing role models.
On the first Monday of each month, Johnson and the girls have a "Celebrate You" party. Every month has a theme, Johnson said, and they all played "Minute To Win It" games this month.
But before the game playing this past Monday, Johnson had the girls share their "upper" for the day - something good that happened to them since they last met.
After the girls shared their positive stories, Johnson asked what color glow they saw around them. Every single girl she's seen glows a certain color, Johnson said.
"What color do you feel like?" Johnson asked the girls. "I'm burning bright pink."
Raini Grams said she felt like lime green while Kiah Hoflock said she glowed purple.
Mackenzy Hassett said she was glowing orange.
"It's a happy, silly day," Hassett said about her color choice.
When Johnson started the program, she began with six girls attending. That number has doubled in the last few months, Johnson said.
And the girls have come to appreciate what Johnson brings to the table every Monday.
"It's really cool because your friends can come with," Kalli Anderson said. She also likes the fact that no boys are allowed in the group.
Ella Runestad said she likes the games, getting together with the rest of the girls and discussing goals at Breakaway.
"The main reason I do it (is I've) seen both sides of the coin," Johnson said. "I know where I was and where I am now."