Young girls face many struggles today. Molly Smith sees that firsthand in her position as unit director of the Boys & Girls Club of Bluffton.
Smith said girls are cutting their arms. They are engaging in sexual acts with boys. And some are dealing with sexual and domestic violence.
"I want to crush all of that," Smith said. "We need to all be on the same page. ... If we can't lift one another up as young women and as women as we grow, then I think our nation is in trouble."
Smith says it is essential that these girls improve their self-esteem. And one way the Boys & Girls Clubs of America does that is through a program called S.M.A.R.T. Girls. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for skills mastery and resistance training. The program teaches girls ages 8 to 17 about health, fitness, education and self-esteem.
The Boys & Girls Club of Bluffton has about 30 girls participating in the program -- 15 in the 8- to 12-year-old group and 15 in the 13- to 17-year-old group. The groups meet once a week during the club's after-school program. The girls go on field trips and have mentoring opportunities with young women from the community.
"These young girls have an opportunity to explore their own societal attitudes and values as we have to develop their skills for eating right, for staying physically fit, for getting good health care, for developing positive relationships with peers and adults," Smith said.
She is hoping to enhance the program so the girls are able to do more. She wants to expose them to more of the dynamic women in the community and is always looking for women's groups to speak to the girls.
Smith wants to take the girls on more field trips, too. But that takes money. To help with the shortfall, the Bluffton club will host a Hope & Opportunity Luncheon on Jan. 11 at The Inn at Palmetto Bluff. Proceeds will go to the club's S.M.A.R.T. Girls program.
"I try to teach the girls that I have access to -- I don't care if you're 6 years old or 18 years old -- that you are 'all that,'" Smith said. "You know, they got that saying, 'I'm all that and a bag of chips?' ... I just want (to) lift their self-esteem so they're not looking for validation from somebody else. They need to have that attitude."