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Healthy Living Program For Jacksonville High School Girls Moves Forward Despite Pandemic

Girls Inc. Participants
Girls Inc.

Amber Ferrell, 17, is a varsity cheerleader, a member of the National Honors Society, and among the top in her class at Jacksonville’s William M. Raines High School. She attributes her achievements to her own hard work, of course, but also to an afterschool program called Girls, Inc. 

Girls Inc. is a nonprofit with an affiliate in Jacksonville, and with funding from the insurance company Humana, it’s running life skills training programs for about a hundred girls in three Duval County high schools: William M. Raines, Sandalwood, and Edward White. 

All three of those are Title 1 schools, meaning a high percentage of students are from low-income families. 

Ferrell said the program has given her important skills to handle life’s challenges: “Being proactive and taking control of my life in positive ways: How to handle stress, positive stress release, like writing it down, talking to some I trust, and letting it out.”

The program teaches emotional coping skills, conflict resolution, sex education and civic duty. Usually, the program is hands-on and interactive, according to Girls Inc. High School Program Manager Brenda Phillips.

Phillips said adjusting to the pandemic was about more than going virtual. She taught the girls lessons about resolving conflicts when everybody was cooped up together at home all day. 

“At the beginning, we asked the girls, you know, what is COVID? What’s your perception of it or what’s your idea of it? And then talked about the effects that it had emotionally on our young ladies and their families.” 

Not being in the same space was hard, she said. “I just need to see my girls and talk with them and interact with them and feel their energy.”

Both Ferrell and Phillips are happy to report that Girls Inc. sessions are back in person, with some modifications. 

“I’m a hugger, too. So not to be able to hug is really difficult,” Phillips said. “And some of the girls know that, and they come up to you, and they want a hug. And I’mma be honest, I do hug them. Because they need it, and I know they need it. But for the most part I do this.”

She mimed an elbow-bump. 

Ferrell has struggled too. “For COVID and maintaining social distancing and practicing safe living habits, it has pushed me to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Because it’s for my benefit and the safety of others.”

Ferrell is graduating soon, and she has big plans. “I plan to go to the University of South Florida and major in biomedical science to become a dermatologist, and later on major in chemistry so I can engineer my own skincare products.”

The pandemic may have made Ferrell uncomfortable, but it hasn’t slowed down the dreams Girls, Inc. helped her believe in.

Contact Sydney Boles at, or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.