Program seeks to empower girls

Jun. 19, 2014 @ 09:48 PM

It’s hard to believe, but Rachel McGirt used to have a weight problem.

That’s according to the Jordan High School grad who is now a rising junior at UNC Asheville and plays center on the basketball team.

“As a child in middle school, I was overweight,” sad McGirt, who is slightly over 6 feet tall and has shed the weight she carried as a young girl.

McGirt said part of the problem was that she was ate anything she wanted.

And although she was an athlete, the bad food choices made it impossible to maintain a healthy weight.

“I just did not have good habits,” McGirt said. “I had issues with body image and self-esteem.”

McGirt’s experience in middle school, and her sister Camille McGirt’s White House internship, led the two to found a non-profit organization called Healthy Girls Save the World that is designed to empower girls in grades 6-9 by equipping them with the skills to make healthy choices in life.

“I was inspired by Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign,” said Camille McGirt, a Hillside High School grad and former Hampton University basketball player until an ACL tear ended her basketball career and brought her home to UNC Chapel Hill where she recently graduated. “I wanted to make that message tangible on a local level.”

The sisters' program focuses on teaching girls how to maintain healthy minds, healthy bodies and healthy relationships. Program participants are also taken on trips to expose them to activities that are taking place in the community.

On Thursday, about 40 girls gathered in an auditorium inside the Genome Sciences Building on the UNC campus to receive an introductory lesson on golf as part of the organization’s third annual “Summer Experience” camp.

The lesson came in advance of a much-anticipated trip to Pinehurst to attend the Women’s U.S. Open golf tournament.

“Many of our girls have very little exposure to this sport, and for some, this will be their first experience on a golf course, and for it to be the Women’s U.S. Open, now that’s cool,” said Camille McGirt, adding that the girls got the chance to meet members of the UNC’s women basketball team on Monday.

She said the trip to Pinehurst might spark a desire in one of the girls to pursue golf professionally.

“It’s a huge win for us, and one of the girls might be inspired to pick up a golf club and go on to become a pro golfer,” Camille McGirt said.
Amiyah Witherspoon, 11, a rising sixth-grader who will attend Rogers-Herr Middle School next school year, said she was excited about going to Pinehurst.

“I’m open to trying new activities,” said Witherspoon, who noted that she’s had some exposure to golf. “I think that’s wonderful and I can’t wait to go.”

Lexy Linton, 11, who will attend Immaculata Catholic School, was also excited about going to Pinehurst for the U.S. Open.
“I like golf, so I’m excited to go there,” Linton said, adding that she’s played the game with friends. 

Claire Veasey, development director for the program, stressed that exposure to the sport and the trip to Pinehurst, where 11-year-old Lucy Li is participating in the tournament as the youngest player to ever qualify, will send a positive message to program participants.

“So many impressive golfer began their careers in golf when they were the age of our girls,” Veasey said. “Their strength, skill and confidence enforce an important message -- success comes from what your body and mind can do, rather than what you look like.”
Thursday’s trip to the Women’s U.S. Open was made possible with help form Wells Fargo, a supporter of the program.

“We are incredibly grateful for Wells Fargo’s support of our organization and are in awe of their commitment to serving the Triangle,” Camille McGirt said.