By Jamie Forsythe Belleville News-Democrat.
Project Compassion Director Rachel Jackson-Bramwell poised a question to a room full of girls ages 11-16: "Why do girls rock?"
"Women can do extraordinary things," Journee Davis, 13, responded.
Even now, Journee, who attends Grant Middle School in Fairview Heights, said girls can put their talents to good use like writing something and sharing it with others.
"If giving of your time is the most valuable thing you have, that will mean the world," Jackson-Bramwell told the girls, who are participating in a nine-week summer program called Imagine Me.
The three-day a week program focuses on self-esteem, empowerment and character development. It started earlier this month and runs through August. It meets Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the First United Presbyterian Church in Belleville.
Jackson-Bramwell said the purpose of Imagine Me is to provide girls with a different outlook on body acceptance and help them understand their attitude impacts their accomplishments as well as how to have good character and make good choices.
Imagine Me -- the brainchild of Jackson-Bramwell -- launched last summer and the number of girls participating has doubled this summer with 30 in all.
The program is an extension of Project Compassion's Girlz On Purpose tour, which is a one-day event.
The Imagine Me program, which costs $65 for nine weeks, targeted low-income families, Jackson-Bramwell said.
Each week the camp has a different theme. Last week's theme was girls rock. On Friday, the activities centered around the theme.
The girls in groups of four or five created their own songs or changed the lyrics of an existing song to incorporate the words girls rock. They also played a spin the bottle game where the girl spinning the bottle had to say why the girl it landed on was beautiful on the inside.
The girls also spent time Friday morning working on their Imagine Me boards, which depicts who they are now and who they want to be in the future.
"You guys were really creative with this stuff," Jackson-Bramwell told the girls as she went around the room helping them with their posters.
Kourtney Shuler, 13, of O'Fallon was carefully using a hot glue gun to paste embellishments on her poster. "It's really fun," she said of Imagine Me. "We do lots of stuff."
Dayla Johnson, 12, of O'Fallon described the program as "inspirational. Ms. Rachel tells us stuff that can apply when we get older," Dayla said of Jackson-Bramwell.
Dayla enjoyed learning how to sew when the girls made a sewing purse earlier this week. "I didn't think sewing was fun, but it's actually pretty fun," she said.
Both Kourtney and Dayla attend school at Fulton Junior High in O'Fallon.
Jackson-Bramwell encouraged the girls to lead by example. She said if you start volunteering at a homeless shelter or visiting residents at a nursing home, others will join.
"When you show people it's OK to do something out of the box, people will follow you," Jackson-Bramwell said.
She also talked to the girls Friday about the importance of making good choices when it comes to friends. "Friends accept us with our flaws," Jackson-Bramwell said. "We want friends who bring out the best in us."
She promotes self expression as well. The girls have their own journal they write in during the program. "I want them to freely express themselves," Jackson-Bramwell said.
Kourtney and Journee praised "Ms. Rachel" as they call Jackson-Bramwell.
"She's a really fun teacher," Kourtney said. "She's really lovable and nice."
"She's a woman with a great spirit and a great purpose," Journee said.