Bullying: Jessie Funk’s Ivy Girl Academy Helps Teenage Girls
To talk to Jessie Funk now, you would never guess that she used to be an insecure teenage girl who was bullied a lot and who bullied others herself. She is now in her mid 20's, a confident singer, motivational speaker, author, nonprofit director, wife, and mother. But she hasn't forgotten the struggles of her adolescent self, and has, in fact, made it her life's work to help teenage girls today overcome their insecurities so that they too can succeed. To that end, she made Ivy Girl Academy.
The Academy is a workshop-based program offering confidence and leadership training to girls ages 12 to 18. It is designed to teach these "beautiful people," as Jessie calls them, the "twelve levels of ladyhood," which include service, gratitude, and confidence. It is a nonprofit that provides a little bit of "character-building education," the likes of which is not part of a public education and, often, not part of many of the girls' home lives. It was formed about three years ago with a group of seven girls in Jessie's living room. It is now nationwide, driven by 14 national directors who set up conferences, and Jessie and her board of four, who do the speaking and instructing. Their last event, held in a conference center, was attended by 100 girls.
Jessie has found that her professional journey has come in handy as she relates to the girls she so passionately instructs. When she was a singer in her teens being groomed to be the "next Britney Spears," she was harshly judged by a Hollywood producer, which crushed her. She went on, though, to release five solo albums, publish five books, tour with Maureen McGovern and with the Broadway musical “Footloose,” and perform as an opening act for Donny Osmond, Josh Grayson and Billy Dean. She has also been a studio vocalist for “America’s Got Talent” and “The Biggest Loser,” as well as for Donny and Marie Osmond's Las Vegas show.
The judgements which many teenage girls are subject to and which they subject each other to, while maybe not as consequential as a big producer's, are often felt just as keenly. It is Jessie's goal, her passionate endeavor, to strengthen and lift the girls in such a way that they can withstand these buffetings. "It is not selfish to build one's confidence," she says, adding that when confidence is balanced with service toward others and gratitude for what one has, the resulting happiness can be a "powerful emotion" that can be a tool to help them overcome their natural sensitivity and skepticism.
When asked what her greatest challenge is now, particularly in regards to teaching teenage girls, she replies that she herself still occasionally fights against feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty. "So I allow myself to have a pity party for a bit," she says, "and then I tell myself: 'I'm not perfect but I know I can help these girls.' And if I don't, who will?" It's funny that a woman who has already accomplished so much in her young life should face such demons, but then again, don't we all? So many of us, teenage girls and "mature" women alike, stack ourselves against the mountains of our expectations or the judgements of others, not the inherent worth of our own souls. The girls of Ivy Girl Academy have a head start in learning confidence and attitudes of service and gratitude at Jessie's hand, for many of us have yet to master these skills.
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