LAKELANDÂ â€” Dozens of girls and young women reveled in their sisterhood Saturday for a daylong, interactive exploration of female empowerment.
From their base at Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland, girls between the ages of 5 and 18 mixed it up with adult mentors and delved into STEM technology.
Saturdayâ€™s event, titled Polk Girls Rock, afforded young teens a chance to get a leg up on college planning, and tour Florida Poly. Girls listened to guests speaking about lifeâ€™s lessons and overcoming obstacles. The day also was devoted to girlish fun with henna tattoos and lessons on cosmetics.
Attendees, including parents, paid $12 or $15 to take part in activities organized by The London J. Agency of Brandon. The admission price included a pizza lunch and arts and crafts.
For Amelia Speck, 7, the day was all about hanging with her fellow Brownie Scouts from Troop 5315 in Polk City.
Her favorite activities including making a catapult from popsicle sticks, which she used to launch cotton balls skyward, and having the back of her left hand decorated with a temporary tattoo. And she loved having her hair dyed bright pink.
â€śI love it,â€ť she said of her new hair color. â€śI had a lot of fun. Youâ€™re not so bored.â€ť
Mostly, Girls Rock gives young girls a chance to immerse themselves in a positive environment, to practice life skills that boost self-confidence. Thatâ€™s what drew Jalandra Patterson, 17, of Bartow, to her third Girls Rock event.
Last yearâ€™s event proved invaluable, she said, after being introduced to mentors that helped prepare her for enrollment into Florida A&M University this fall.
An 11th-grader at Summerlin Academy in Bartow, Patterson said she wants to study sports therapy at FAMU. She said this yearâ€™s Girls Rock symposium helped inspire her to stay true to her dreams.
â€śIt empowers me to be better, and I see ladies older than me (tell of overcoming) trials and tribulations,â€ť she said. â€śIt encourages me.â€ť
Patterson said she was especially touched by a presentation from Tamara Comage of Dundee, a Naval reservist who dropped out of Haines City High School when she became pregnant.
Comage, 20, was 15 at the time, and just starting 10th grade. She related to the girls how she was ashamed of her pregnancy, and left school to avoid being the subject of gossip.
She said she â€śpulled it togetherâ€ť with help from her daughter, Imani Ngo, now 4, whose biological father, Troy Ngo, 19, was killed after his car hit a tree in his native Champagne, Illinois, on Dec. 17, 2015.
Roughly a year after giving birth, Comage returned to Haines City High. After graduating in 2016, she enlisted in the Navy.
â€śI had a pretty bad situation but it could have been a lot worse,â€ť she said.
Eric Pera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7528.