An overheard comment, a shocked reaction and a follow-up conversation with her daughter.
That’s how Meghan Skrepenski’s venture was born.
That, plus two months of a friend’s determined nudging.
Launched last summer, Skrepenski’s Raising Strong Girls Boot Camps are “a mother-daughter workout program that empowers our girls to be stronger with each other, understanding that when we lift others up, we are also lifted up, when we get stronger in body, we can also get stronger in mind and soul.”
Sessions include 15 minutes of exercise (adapted for all skill levels); 15 minutes of personal development and learning; and 15 minutes of regrouping, social time and healthy snacks (which Skrepenski provides).
It’s an eight-week program that costs $10/session per family.
“If we can empower our girls to think outside themselves, one, we’re going to see more supportive girls, girls that are kinder to one another, girls that understand that they feel good when they make other people feel good,” said Skrepenski, a mother of two daughters. “And also that we’ll have people standing up to bullies.”
It was, in fact, a bullying-type comment that sparked Strong Girls in the first place.
In spring 2017, after a program at her daughter Grace’s school, all the parents and kids decided to go out for some ice cream together. The kids sat at one table, and the parents sat nearby.
“A little girl came over (to the kids’ table) who had a disability. … I don’t know if anyone knew her,” Skrepenski recalled. “But she just talked to these girls at this table, and then just kept talking and kept talking. … And I was, like, ‘They’re being so nice, just listening and (having a good) conversation.’”
“And then after she left, one of (the girls) goes, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so glad that thing stopped talking to us.’”
Skrepenski was shocked at the comment. And she noticed, too, that Grace, then 9 years old, half-smiled at her friend’s comment and said nothing in response.
Asked about it later in the car, Grace first denied she’d heard anything, and then admitted she didn’t know how to respond. The girl who had been talking to them had left before the comment was made, and Grace didn’t know what she should say to her friend.
“OK, that makes sense,” Skrepenski said.
So Skrepenski formulated some ideas for how to handle those situations, ideas that morphed into a curriculum that became Skrepenski’s boot camps.
The boot camp aims to develop confidence and encourage kindness, the specific tools girls (and their moms) need to stand up for themselves and for others.
Skrepenski proposed the idea to her friend in spring 2017.
“And she said, ‘You need to do this.’”
Skrepenski launched the program at her church last summer, garnered positive feedback, but took a break over winter as her work as an officer with the Air National Guard took precedence. (She has served in the military, including multiple deployments, for 17 years. Her husband is a veteran as well.)
But she’s now jumping “full-force” into growing Strong Girls LLC.
She’s leading eight-week boot camps at three locations around Madison this summer.
She’s also coordinating with the Girl Scouts, holding at least two camps for them this summer and hoping to get her boot camps approved as a specific badge Girl Scouts can earn.
Boot camp sessions are intentionally engaging for girls and their moms.
In one session, for example, participants write down positive words to describe themselves, and Skrepenski found that, oftentimes, it’s the older participants who struggle the most.
“It’s also helping the moms grow stronger and be more aware of the negative thoughts they might have in their own homes,” Skrepenski said, negative patterns their daughters then emulate.
“When we (gain confidence and positivity) and we feel comfortable, if nothing else, then you can brush (negative comments) off. ‘I know that I love myself, so I don’t care what you say.’”
People from different states, even different countries, have started asking to be a part of the “Strong Girls movement,” Skrepenski said.
She believes that, in revamping moms’ and daughters’ mindsets, Strong Girls can have a monumental impact on the world.
“I’m like, ‘Everybody should be a part of wanting to make girls and moms and women in general feel positive, have a positive vibe, knowing that they’re good enough just as they are, helping them feel strong, helping them know how to brush off the mean-girl mentality and to move on,” she said.