The Recorder: Program empowers girls with college and life in mind

By Anthony Richards

Going off to college is an exciting time for high school seniors, but for parents that excitement is also mixed with some unease and the hope that their daughters can take care of themselves regardless of the situations that arise.

That is exactly what Ellen van Olden had in mind when she founded Empower the Girls, LLC in 2012, and what will be the goal when she hosts the program at Momentum in Ponte Vedra Beach from 2-5 p.m. May 1.

“It is meant to prepare teens and young women with practical life-saving skills,” van Olden said.

Not only is she a mom of daughters herself, but she has an extensive history working alongside her father in the 1990s with MOAB Training International, which specializes in programs designed to consult organizations and their employees on how to best manage aggressive behavior.

“I had the opportunity of working with some of the best law enforcement training officers in the country,” van Olden said.

She used her past experiences in the implementation of the program, which she went forward with as her daughters got in high school and she began discovering the risks that college campuses can pose to girls.

“One in five girls will be sexually assaulted on campus and one in eight raped,” van Olden said. “I knew all the things from all the years of training I had, and I wanted to give that back to my girls.”

As a result, her program is not solely focus on self-defense techniques, but also seeks to give them a better understanding of what to look for in various scenarios that could take place.

The program also includes an active shooter component as one of the situations acted out.

She encourages high school students in the area to attend the program and invites mothers to join their daughters and experience the class together.

“I just love working with mothers and daughters,” van Olden said. “That’s at my heart. It’s a grassroots movement that want to make sure their daughters grow up empowered so that they can navigate their world. Having moms in the class really opens up that conversation.”

Over the years, van Olden has seen the difference the program can make on girls once they go through the one-day training.

According to van Olden, just knowing what to do if confronted with a situation gives them a bump in confidence that they may not have had before. That assurance in turn fuels a nature of empowerment and allows them to live their life accordingly.

“The most important thing that we teach is to have a plan and a blueprint for a variety of situations,” van Olden said. “It’s very much like the mental preparation that an athlete goes through. We are blessed with our intuition and instincts, but it’s how you use it and what you put in your self-conscience.”

The Parklander: Back To School – Safety Before Sendoff

Preparing your student for college
The preparations for college are almost done. The dorm décor is ready, the wardrobe is complete, and the books are ordered; but one vital preparation piece is often overlooked – talking about the risks of college life. Not only talking about the risks but training and preparing students, especially females, about the dangers they may face and what to do to reduce the risk.

Sexual assault on campus is a genuine problem, and there’s no pretty or easy way to talk about it. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted according to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. The Department of Justice reports that college students aged 18-24 are three times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence, and nearly 1 in 5 college-aged women are likely to experience a completed or attempted rape at some point during her college career states a study from the Journal of American College Health.
In recent months, colleges across the country have faced increased scrutiny over the handling of safety issues, including sexual assault. While institutions are finding new ways to educate and inform students, this is not enough. Prevention education and self- defense strategies need to be taught before a student even sets foot on campus.

Statistically speaking, freshmen and sophomores are at a heightened risk of becoming victims. As a female undergrad explores her newfound independence, surroundings, and friends, she may find her safety compromised unexpectedly. The National Crime Victimization Survey shows that people who used physical self-defense in response to attempted rape were significantly more likely to stop the assault, demonstrating that knowing what to do and having self-defense skills can reduce risk.

One Parkland mother, Delia Skuta, spoke with her daughter about the risks in college. She hopes that the talks about sexual assault and the reality of what is happening on campuses will help prepare her. “Not only have we had safety conversations throughout high school, but she and her friend thought it would be important to take a self-defense class before heading off to college in the fall,” Skuta said. Both girls enrolled in personal safety and self defense training classes. “They feel much more confident and prepared going to college. It really opened their eyes,” Skuta said.

Gavin de Becker, author of The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift, urges people to sharpen their awareness of gut instincts in order to take advantage of the body’s early warning system.
Throughout his career, he has discovered that most individuals who come to him as victims of assault can recognize hesitancy and nervousness when reflecting on the initial interaction with her assaulter. De Becker said, “the biggest mistake you can make is to rationalize your fears as “just being silly,” and ignore the instincts that could have saved you from a dangerous situation.” He notes, “80 percent of violence is perpetrated by people we know,” confirming that awareness is the first step to reducing the risk of assault.

Despite the attention that the issue of sexual assault receives by both the media and universities, a high percentage of students remain at risk. While it may not be the easiest conversation to have, it will better prepare students to deal with the issue in an informed way.
Parents can gain a little peace of mind and students may increase their confidence, as well as the odds of staying safe, by enrolling in a safety and self-defense class before they step foot on campus. Many local police departments offer R.A.D. (Rape Aggression Defense) or look to local experts who run classes. The safety education may be just as important as the rest of those classes.℗

Interactive Evening of Improv Fun & Games

Let’s jump into 2021 with a little FUN! Join us for an evening of good, wholesome entertainment and destress from all the stress through improv games and drills. The benefits are limitless! Such as learning how to be more mindful, learning how not to take yourself so seriously, and learning to be a better listener while learning how to be a kinder person. Guess what? Improv is not about being funny, you don’t have to be a performer, and anyone can do it! And best of all, it’s fun!

Lead by Casey Casperson, Founder, and Director of Sick Puppies Comedy, operating in South Florida as the premier Stand Up, Sketch, and Improv company for shows and classes. Casey has performed standup comedy, improv, live theater, and on-screen since 1997.