By: Cullen McIntyre, Editor-in-Chief
A Division III National Champion in javelin, senior Sophia Slovenski is now championing a campaign to empower young girls in the community. Slovenski, a dual athlete on the Women’s Volleyball and Track & Field teams while majoring in health science, has been volunteering with the organization Strong Girls United and is bringing the “Strong Girls U” branch to USM.
Slovenski initially heard of the organization while speaking on a panel “Voices of Women in Sport: Empowering Girls for Life – A Toolbox for Middle School Athletes and Beyond” for the Maine Girls & Women in Sports Committee. One of the other panelists was Lani Silversides, the founder of the Strong Girls United Foundation.
They instantly connected, both residing in York and finding a connection at a former school Slovenski attended and Silversides taught at. Since then, Slovenski has volunteered for the Female Athlete Mentorship (FAM) program, a subprogram like Strong Girls U. Her involvement in the program inspired her to bring the program to USM.
According to the Strong Girls United website, “We aim to positively impact the drop out rate of girls in sports, attendance at women’s sporting events, the number of women coaching, social connection among female role models, the confidence and mindset of both the youth girls and college athletes, all while providing opportunity, access and a place for every girl to be part of a team.”
The program provides training for student athletes over the course of six weeks, aiming to get female athletes at USM involved with local elementary school girls in physical activity and sport, as well as mental health and wellbeing activities. Slovenski is excited for the chance to bring the foundation’s program to USM, “I think it’s a great opportunity for student athletes to give back to the community and show that there’s more to sport than just sports.”
The process of bringing the foundation to the Gorham campus involved a fundraising effort of $2,000 with a deadline of February 1. Partnering with the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and Student Athlete Diversity, Inclusion and Equity (SADIE) committee at USM, Slovenski was able to raise the necessary funds to bring the chapter to USM. “The fee covers the cost of team shirts, books, bracelets, and more for all the participants as well as the training for all athletes involved like mental health skills, leadership and trauma-informed mentoring,” said Slovenski.
Slovenski’s initial goal was to get each women’s sport at USM involved, and was happy to not only reach that goal but the fundraising goal as well. Working with the foundation has helped her learn skills that translated into her everyday life.
“They’ve given me this toolbox in learning a lot about mental skills training, five finger breathing and all of these things that are so simple but have really helped in professional environments,” she said. “Little things that I’m using to help my mentee are actually really helping me.”
The skills that are taught in the Strong Girls U program leave positive impacts on youth, as well as the student athletes. According to Slovenski, “The Women’s Sport foundation found that 40% of girls are not actively involved in athletics. The goal of Strong Girls U is to positively impact this rate in Maine.” These numbers can be attributed to a lack of resources, time or motivation to get involved. Through Strong Girls U, the girls that will participate with student athletes at USM will be provided with all of these, as well as training that will help them grow.
Slovenski hopes that the program will help the student athletes feel more involved in the community. She is already reaching out to local schools to get in touch and make connections for the program that aims to provide the service at no cost to underserved girls in the Gorham area. For now, Slovenski will be working to set up the six week training program and start working towards empowering local girls in our community with the help of her fellow student athletes at USM.