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Girls’ Festival allows youngsters to plug in and become engaged

By Annie Sciacca

SANTA CLARA » Hundreds of girls flocked to Santa Clara University Saturday to participate in an event that was all about them.

The third annual Girls’ Festival, hosted by Mill Valley-based company WorldWide-Women, assembled a collection of activities, performances, vendor booths and workshops geared toward helping girls succeed. That included things such as one-onone career mentoring across business, science, sports, arts and advocacy professions, a “maker space” that allowed for making art and food, a pop-up shop that allowed girls to sell goods they had made and performances from local women’s and girls’ dance and chorus groups.

“The goal is to instill in the girls that they can do anything,” said Mary Stutts, a co-founder of the festival and a member of the advisory board for WorldWideWomen.

Stutts and the other festival founders, including WorldWideWomen founder and CEO Maureen Broderick, didn’t want a static lecture series that girls would have to sit through, but instead an interactive and engaging event where girls could get hands-on with a variety of activities aimed at empowering them, Stutts said.

In one session Saturday morning, young women and girls packed into an auditorium to hear from a panel of women business owners, where they could ask them questions about their own path as an entrepreneur and then get one-on-one career mentoring.

Just outside, girls got to kick and scream their way through a self-defense workshop put on by Krav Maga instructors Andrea Cronin and Patrice Lagrange of the Academy of Self Defense in Santa Clara, in which they practiced getting out of the tight hold of a potential assailant and throwing punches in a way that won’t break their hands.

Zahra Patel, 10, of Pleasanton, loves science, so her mom, Shaila Patel, took her and her younger brother Zayden, 5, to the festival to experience some of the science-

Rhyana Robinson, 11, of Vallejo, and Kalani Davis, 10, of Antioch, build a droid robot as they follow instructions on an app during the WorldWideWomen Girls’ Festival at Santa Clara University on Saturday.


Auanda Flores, 10, of San Jose, throws a couple punches as instructors Patrice Lagrange, of Academy of Self Defense, holds a punching bag as part of a self-defense demonstration during the World Wide Women Girls’ Festival.

based workshops. Among the first activity to catch Zahra’s eye was a booth hosted by bioscience company Gilead, which instructed the girls about the chemical properties of sugar and how it changes when cooked, and then let them eat the cotton candy end result.

She thinks she wants to be a chemist when she grows up, she said, but she’s also interested in coding and other sciences. Later in the day, she was hoping to catch some workshops about robotics.

Kalani Davis, 10, and Rhyana Robinson 11, were doing just that at a workshop hosted by Oaklandbased Black Girls Code that was instructing girls how to build droid robots.

Davis and Robinson were following instructions on an app assembling different pieces to build the small robots and they were looking forward to playing with the robot when complete.

Neither of them are quite sure if they want to build robots as part of their profession later in life, but they were happy to have the option to do it for fun at the festival, Davis said.

Patty Griffith was excited by the variety of workshops and activities on the campus for the festival. She homeschools her daughter Emma, 9, so she’s constantly looking for activities to supplement her education and a reason to get out of the house.

She and Emma weren’t sure yet which workshops they were going to attend, but when they arrived, Emma went straight to a big chalkboard where girls could write and draw freely.

“Be brave, be bold, be you,” she wrote on the board.

That, in essence, is the message WorldWideWomen founder Broderick wanted to spread with the Girls Festival. She started the company as a way to promote gender parity, part of which it tries to accomplish by vetting and publishing online a directory of services, programs and organizations for women. It also has a directory called Buy-FromWomen, providing a list of women-owned businesses.

The Girls’ Festival is its other element, which Broderick started three years ago in SanFrancisco, where it drew about 6,000 people, she said. Last year’s event in the East Bay similarly drew thousands. This year, Broderick said, she was expecting a slightly smaller number, because of the venue change, and was expecting 3,000 girls to attend Saturday. About 70 nonprofits and corporations were sponsoring or hosting activities at the festival, Broderick said. She hopes to take the festival on tour and expand to other cities, she said.

“It’s all about power and possibility,” she said. Contact Annie Sciacca at 925- 943- 8073.

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