Her family, friends and associates always knew Karen Silverman was a smart girl. Today, Karen also is the new Executive Director of Smart-Girl, a Colorado nonprofit dedicated to empowering middle school age girls with the skills and tools they need to make smart choices and become confident, capable, self-reliant young women.
With a J.D. from George Washington University and a B.A. in International Affairs from University of Colorado, Boulder, Karen was well on her way to making a difference in the world. After practicing law for a few years, Karen stepped into what would become her life’s passion – Colorado nonprofit management. She coordinated public policy for the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, tackled patient advocacy for the American Cancer Society, and directed the Colorado Association of Family and Children’s Agencies before bringing her leadership to the Colorado Jewish community.
Karen’s positive impact was felt immediately when she stepped into the role of Interim Director of the Robert E. Loup Jewish Community Center Early Childhood Center, and then to the Colorado Agency for Jewish Education as the Israel Study Tour Alumni Association Director.
“Karen was a terrific asset to CAJE,” said Tammy Themel, Chief Operating Officer for the Colorado Agency for Jewish Education. “She’s calm and thoughtful and determined and unrelenting – that’s a great combo for a nonprofit organization.”
A Smart Girl Goes to Smart-Girl
Karen took over the Executive Director post for Smart-Girl in October of 2009. What she saw was the chance to help girls of all means and backgrounds become their best selves.
“With Smart-Girl, I have the chance to make a difference when girls are at their most vulnerable,” said Silverman. “Middle school is when girls are most likely to lose who they are. After a childhood of believing they could conquer the world, they’re now filled with self-doubt. Their self-esteem can take a beating and they can become more susceptible to negative outside influences. Bullying, peer pressure, moodiness, body image issues and gossip all rear their ugly heads during this period. Smart-Girl empowers girls with the knowledge and skills to combat this negativity, make smart choices and embrace themselves.”
Smart-Girl is a mentoring program that draws its strength from many unique components. The development and nurturing of girls’ social-emotional intelligence is at Smart-Girl’s core. The curriculum is research-based, and “near-peer” Guides lead program sessions. The Guides – girls who are usually in high school or college – go through an extensive training program for which they can receive college credit before taking on the role of leader and positive peer role model for Smart-Girl participants.
“Middle school is a place where girls get lost and just follow others because they think that’s the right thing to do,” said a 14-year-old participant. “Smart-Girl has taught me to follow my own heart, my own mind, and that I am smart enough to make my own choices.”
The Smart-Girl program consists of 16 sessions that are thought provoking, experiential and fun. The curriculum is designed to keep girls engaged while taking on serious issues in a safe environment. The program helps girls to develop leadership and confidence, self-awareness and self-worth, critical thinking and problem solving skills, group and social skills, and attitudes and values that lead to resilience and success in life. Smart-Girl meets the national standards of the American School Counselor’s Association and can be delivered in a variety of formats depending on the providing partner’s needs. Schools, camps and community centers have all successfully delivered Smart-Girl programs.
“I wish I had had Smart-Girl when I was a kid. Girls who participate in Smart-Girl are more positive and proactive, regardless of what neighborhood they’re from or how comfortable their family is. All girls go through the same garbage at this age, and Smart-Girl helps them come though it smelling like a rose,” summed up Silverman.