A FEW YEARS AGO, JENNY Hauser came across a sobering statistic. According to national research, girls’ self esteem peaks at age nine. As the mother of two girls, ages 7 and 3, she couldn’t believe what she was reading. Could it really be that her oldest daughter, Grace, had just two years left before she started questioning her looks, and subsequently, her worth?
At the same time, Grace began asking to tag along during her weekend workouts. She hesitated at first, wanting to hang on to the precious “me time” her workouts provided. One Saturday she finally gave in and was pleasantly surprised.
“We had our own mini boot camp and it was such an incredible, fun experience to have with my little girl,” said Hauser. “I immediately wondered if we could do this with other moms and daughters.”
With a background in social work and a career in non-profit events and fundraising, Hauser is no stranger to advocacy and action. She admits that she has personally struggled with body image and found herself wanting to advocate for something near and dear to her heart: raising strong, confident young ladies.
“When Grace was in second grade I started hearing about playground conversations concerning weight and being fat,” said Hauser. “That, along with the statistic, made me think this is going to be a long road and I wanted to do something about it.”
MAKING IT HAPPEN
With the kernel of an idea, Hauser turned to her friend and group exercise instructor, Molly Holsen, to help make her vision a reality. As the mother of three boys, Holsen jumped at the chance.
“I don’t have girls, but as a woman it’s important to me that we teach our girls to be kind to one another and view their bodies as strong and healthy,” said Holsen. “Growing up as an athlete I think I had a stronger body image and I want to pass that along to other girls.”
During the summer of 2015, Hauser and Holsen launched their boot camp program with the intention of bringing moms and daughters together for not only a great workout, but also the opportunity to build camaraderie. Not knowing what kind of response they would get, they planned for just three Saturday morning sessions throughout the summer.
The hour-long sessions were held outside at Hart Park or other areas near the Tosa Village and included a mix of cardio, weights, yoga, visualization and meditation.
EMPOWERING THROUGH EXERCISE
The duo wanted it to be more than just exercise though. It needed to be a positive, engaging and empowering experience that was meaningful to the participants. Most importantly, it needed to be fun! To achieve this, they wove four key elements into their program. Hauser began each session by sharing the inspiration for the boot camp.
With Grace by her side, she encouraged all of the moms to join her and Holsen in promoting their “strong is beautiful” mantra. “It’s so important to talk to our girls about what our bodies do, more than how they look,” said Holsen. “Our bodies carry us around, it’s important that we take care of them.” They also made sure to stress that this was a special time for moms and daughters to work together.
While many had friends in attendance, Holsen encouraged the girls to stick by their moms and vice versa. Hauser and Holsen knew fun was an essential ingredient to making their concept successful.
They incorporated a lot of motivating words and silly extra credit moves, including high fives, cartwheels and heel clicks at the end of challenging circuits. The “Discount Double Check” even made an appearance. Many girls saw their moms do a cartwheel for the first time. The playfulness created lasting memories and the laughter provided some extra abdominal work.
Finally, each session ended with a chance for reflection. At some sessions, the girls were encouraged to share what they liked best and how the experience was beneficial for them. At other sessions, moms and daughters were given the chance meditate on an intention like patience, listening better or remaining calm. They were encouraged to share these intentions and support one another in working towards them.
FILLING A VOID
As with any new venture, Hauser and Holsen didn’t know what to expect. They knew they had the support of a few friends, but were nervous. Would people like the concept? Would they attend? To say they were blown away by the response is an understatement.
“We had about 60 people at our first session and there were more new faces at each subsequent session. We had a following of some core people, but it kept growing,” said Hauser. “It made me think that maybe we are all craving some kind of connection with our children.”
They have a strong base of support from Wauwatosa, but have also captured participants from Milwaukee’s East Side, Menomonee Falls, Cedarburg and more.
With that validation, the pair moved to formalize their program, establishing a name, creating a logo and solidifying a schedule for 2016. Hauser and Holsen are excited to officially introduce Grace-Girls to their supporters this spring. The name has double meaning. It’s both a nod to Grace, the inspiration behind it all, as well as a reminder to participants that the true purpose behind the boot camp is to empower women and girls to show grace and kindness towards themselves and their bodies, as well as others.
BUILDING STRONG BONDS
While building strong bodies is definitely a primary goal, so is strengthening relationships. For Tracy Richburg of Wauwatosa, the boot camp allowed her to spend quality time with her daughters, Alison, 13, Lucy, 11, and Marge, 8, in a healthy, productive way.
“As a family, we do so much and are running around all the time. This was something different that let us just be ourselves together,” said Richburg. “How often do you really get a chance to spend time with just your daughters doing something that’s good for all of you? We loved it.”
Kim Khan, who made the trek from Milwaukee’s East Side to attend with her daughter Tahlia, 9, likened the experience to being part of a team. “What I liked best about my experience in sports was the opportunity to bond with my team. I really liked the fact that I had the chance to bond with my daughter over exercise,” said Khan. “I’m not the craft mom, but exercise is something that is important to me, so it was a fun for us to share that together.”
With solid support, as well as a new name and look, Hauser and Holsen are ready to grow GraceGirls in 2016. They are hoping to engage more high school-aged girls and their moms, recognizing that not all teens play sports, but everyone has a need for exercise. In addition, they want to secure indoor space for their sessions, especially in the winter months, so that they can avoid another hiatus and continue to build on their momentum year round. This has been one of their biggest challenges so far and they are hopeful they can find local partners who will support their mission by allowing them to use their gym or warehouse space.
The sessions may have gone on hiatus for bit, but their passion for this program certainly did not.
“As women and moms, we want to promote self confidence, provide a support network and be each other’s biggest cheerleaders,” said Hauser. “We need to be role models for our girls and show them that strong really is beautiful.”