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Q&A with Camille McGirt of Healthy Girls Save the World

By Daijah Street Davis on September 19th, 2018

As a former middle school teacher, I often speak about how my students inspired me to pursue a career in public health. I wanted to address issues that impact children’s education every day, but are beyond teachers’ control.

In August 2016, I became a student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health with my students’ struggles in mind. During my time there, I worked with Healthy Girls Save the World (HGSW), a nonprofit based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina that addresses some of the health-related issues my students faced. I recently chatted with Camille McGirt, HGSW’s co-founder, about how the organization is making strides toward health equity in North Carolina, starting with adolescent girls.

Can you tell me more about what HGSW does?

Healthy Girls Save the World helps middle school girls—specifically African American girls from low-income families—participate in high-quality, organized physical activity and nutrition programs. The ultimate goal of these programs is that girls are knowledgeable and enabled to make healthy choices in their lives. Each year, HGSW selects a group of rising 6th-9th grade girls to participate in our annual Summer Experience. This two-week day camp has a uniquely powerful combination of trained female counselors, female varsity athletes, expert speakers, and enriching activities led by other student organizations. These activities are centered on our three pillars: Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies, and Healthy Relationships. HGSW also coordinates with local middle schools and other community organizations to host its after school program, using a curriculum adapted from the evidence-based program New Moves.

How did HGSW begin?

I was inspired to start HGSW after serving as an intern at The White House during the Obama Administration. I got a chance to volunteer for the former First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign, and I was really interested in capturing the message of health and wellness and making it tangible for girls in my hometown community, Durham, NC. After chatting with my sister about the idea, we decided that we wanted to make it a reality, and we started hosting HGSW events at local libraries in Durham. The organization has grown from there!

"I was inspired to start HGSW after serving as an intern at The White House during the Obama Administration. I got a chance to volunteer for the former First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign, and I was really interested in capturing the message of health and wellness and making it tangible for girls in my hometown community, Durham, NC."

How does HGSW work to increase health equity?

We provide programs for low-income girls who otherwise would likely not be able to attend a specialized afterschool program or summer camp. We provide scholarships, lunch, and transportation for low-income girls in our program, which helps ensure that all girls are able to attend our programs no matter their socio-economic status. We pride ourselves in being able to do this, and it sets up apart from other higher-cost programs.

HGSW partners with young women in college in its work with adolescent girls. Can you talk more about the leadership roles they play within the organization, and why it is an important part of HGSW’s structure?

Yes! This is true! Young women who are in college help implement the program, and many of them are in leadership positions. Their roles include serving as school-year counselors, Summer Experience counselors, and on our leadership team. These roles are extremely important, because the young women interact directly with the girls in our program. We believe that it’s vital for girls to see young women who are in college and achieving their goals—it’s a component of social modeling that we try to replicate.

What types of policy or environmental changes would best support HGSW’s work?

There are so many policy and environmental changes that would support HGSW! Mainly, I think that policy changes focusing on the health of African American women would be monumental for increasing health promotion within this population. African Americans suffer disproportionality from health and healthcare disparities. Morbidity and/or mortality stemming from obesity and childbirth should be two areas of focus for policy changes.

What excites you about your work?

I get excited about the impact that we can have in the future! We have grown and done so much, and I think that as time continues, we will flourish and grow our impact to touch the lives of thousands, maybe millions, of girls.

Author
Daijah Street Davis
Daijah Street Davis

Project Manager

Joyful educator and learner advocating for system-level change.