When Jane Comer attended Gloria Steinem's 75th birthday party, she was challenged to accomplish an “outrageous act.”
The following January, seven women gathered in Comer's living room to discuss gender equity and the power of women supporting women.
The support was overwhelming.
The women set out with an objective to provide a support system and mentoring program for girls and young women, and to set up a network for women and women's organizations at local and national levels.
The group wanted to make a difference. They wanted to ignite change, and they realized the key to empowering girls and young women was to begin at an early age.
That was in 2009.
Comer recruited a board of directors and with their help started the program for girls ages 9 to adult.
In 2010, GirlSpring was officially founded in Birmingham, Ala. Today, the organization is over 1,000 women strong, with a master plan to replicate GirlSpring nationally.
GirlSpring's mission is to provide access to reliable information, inspiring events, and positive role models so girls and young women are empowered to reach their full potential.
Their vision is to invest in girls and young women, which can build better societies, better communities, better relationships, better family lives, better political systems, better businesses, and a better world.
GirlSpring offers information via its mobile website and online community with reliable information, relevant news and social interaction in a safe environment, so girls have independent resources to help them make sound choices and wise decisions. GirlSpring also hosts gatherings, or events, that feature messages of empowerment with speakers, films and forums.
They also have a mentoring program where positive role models are provided to give girls and young women “Dream Days” with one-on-one mentors.
Taking the next step in their master plan, Alys Beach hosted a meeting Monday night for women interested in being part of establishing GirlSpring in South Walton, the site of Comer's second home. About two dozen women gathered to hear about the organization and its mission and to meet the founder.
"I saw a big need for awareness among women and them knowing how to deal with everyday issues," Comer told The Sun. "I saw women who didn't know or understand about issues such as their cars, wages, the workplace, their health, and discrimination. Women have power over their bodies but are being dictated to.”
South Walton's chapter will be headed by Christine Tarpley, who works at Alys Beach. Tarpley grew up in South Walton with a single mom who had to work multiple jobs. She approached Comer about starting the chapter of GirlSpring in South Walton.
"There are not a lot of things to do here," said Tarpley. "I want to help girls who don't have things they need and a lot of resources. I want to give back."
Tarpley says the local chapter is still forming from the ground up and they are still surveying venues for events and gatherings, looking for volunteers, sponsors, and mentors. She said a gathering and fundraiser is in the process of being planned for the fall with more information forthcoming.
"We want to also have events for girls and their moms that will help make them stronger women," she said. "Empower a girl and change the world. We will endeavor to bring equality and social justice through love, support and mentoring. We will offer bullying and self-defense classes, gatherings and events, and educational material."
Another thing that is needed is an interactive website for these aged girls where they can find out about events and have access to information about abuse, abortion, pregnancy, and other topics such as the mentoring program.
"We want an international website and reach girls all over the world where girls all over the world can chat in forums," said Comer.
They hope to have that up within six months, as soon as they can raise $200,000.
In GirlSpring's mentoring program, girls can spend four to six hours with professional women who are mentors. They will also learn about confidence building and basics such as how to change a tire.
"Basically, it's empowerment of young girls," said Comer. "We want to encourage girls to complete their education, get a good job, and have babies when they are ready.”
Comer emphasizes that GirlSpring is for every girl.
"I know the stats on poverty, teen pregnancy, and bullying. I've worked with women's rights for years. This is for girls from everywhere needing support, whether from educated or uneducated homes, not just for undereducated," she said.
Comer is a native of Birmingham and ran her own business for 15 years. She started coming here in 1949.
"We are probably the oldest residents in Seagrove," she said. "We bought when my father was a young man."
For more information on how become involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It's tribal. Girls need mentors to help make them strong. The goal is to focus and strengthen the community of girls so we can build strong women in the community and create a model," said Anne Hunter, who has sat on the GirlSpring board.