By Julia Ryan
Many teenaged girls on Long Island will be spending their summer slaving away at part-time jobs or roaming the mall with their friends. But 10 girls from Smithtown will be spending their summer making a difference in their community instead.
PROUDGirls on the Move is a grassroots volunteer program that Diane Prefontaine started three months ago in association with hangPROUD, an online community for women that she started with Carla Alpert, who is also a PROUDGirls organizer. The group, which is currently made up of 10 girls ages 14 to 17, aims to empower young women and boost their self-confidence through projects that help less-fortunate people on Long Island.
“[The group] has helped girls learn that they should not be defined by outer beauty-what you wear and what you own- but by inner beauty and what you do in the community,” said Prefontaine. She hopes that PROUDGirls on the Move will help girls reconsider how they see themselves and their own self-worth.
For their first project, the girls collected food donations in Smithtown and made 1,000 bag lunches for people at The Inn in Hempstead. The PROUD Girls have also played bingo with a group of elderly women, performed a hula dance at the Fathers Day Barbeque for St. Charles Nursing Facility and spent the day with foster children at The Little Flower Foster Boarding Home in Wading River. Most recently the girls returned to The Inn to serve more than 350 people at The Inn’s soup kitchen.
Stephanie Auerbach, a 15-year-old Smithtown High School student, heard about the program from Prefontaine, a family friend, and convinced her friends to join the program. She said that she knew right away that she enjoyed volunteering and helping other people.
“I stuck with the program because volunteering gave me a good feeling, and I knew I wanted to do it again,” said Auerbach, who added that her most memorable experience was working with a small girl at The Little Flower who was waiting for foster parents. Auerbach said that she was impressed with the fact that the girl was proud of herself despite her hardships.
Brianna Tibett, a 17-year-old Smithtown High School West student, was also drawn to PROUDGirls on the Move by the opportunity to help others.
“I really wanted to make a difference and impact my community,” said Tibett, who recalls working with the elderly and the plight of one woman in particular. “She was telling me stories and she got very emotional when she told me about the hardships that she went through growing up,” said Tibett.
After her experience, Tibett said she plans on becoming a foster parent for children who are going through divorce custody proceedings. She feels that her work in PROUDGirls on the Move will make her better able to understand their ordeals.
Auerbach also feels that her volunteering with the group has changed the course of her life. She plans on using her work with PROUDGirls on the Move in her future career to either work as a children’s doctor in Africa or as a news reporter as her volunteer work has given her a better understanding of a wide variety of people.
Prefontaine has many plans for the future of PROUDGirls on the Move. The PROUDGirls will be visiting The Little Flower Home again at the end of July to meet with preteen girls while Prefontaine is working to create more chapters of PROUDGirls on the Move and in other local high schools with the hopes that it will eventually become a national movement.
“In the three months that they’ve been working together they’ve really bonded as a team,” Prefontaine said as she recalled a recent full day’s work at a soup kitchen. “It’s a good feeling to see teenaged girls interested in this because that doesn’t happen often.”