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.”