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Girl Empowerment at CRJ: Las Chicas and the Junior League of Chicago

By Gabriela Garcia, LCPC, PEL
Director of Counseling at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. 

Women's History Month is dedicated to highlighting the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. I was fortunate enough to contribute to Women's History Month in my own special way recently when I was presented with the opportunity to highlight a beautiful partnership between The Junior League of Chicago (JLC), and Las Chicas, a girl empowerment club at Cristo Rey Jesuit.  

Inspired by our female friendships and mentors, Cristo Rey Jesuit teacher Colleen Nieto and I decided to start an afterschool club to model, promote, encourage, and support female empowerment and sisterhood.  Many of the girls at Cristo Rey Jesuit were craving a safe space to address gender roles and familial expectations, generational trauma, safe relationships, friendship drama, self-esteem, and physical and psychological well-being. In addition, our girls wanted a fun place to find and be their authentic selves.  Thus, in 2015, Las Chicas was formed and became an official school club.

The Junior League of Chicago is a metropolitan organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving the community through effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.  When I learned about the Junior League of Chicago's Teen Mentorship program last Fall, I instantly knew this would be a special partnership for Las Chicas here at Cristo Rey. 

I cannot speak highly enough about the experiences the women of the Junior League of Chicago have provided our Chicas. Not only do our Chicas meet women excelling in their careers and giving back to our community, but they also get to participate in creative and meaningful activities that JLC members plan and organize. 

Because of this partnership, Las Chicas members have engaged in a wide variety of activities.  Creative endeavors include designing their own club tote bags and tie-dying t-shirts. JLC field trips have included a pottery class, bowling, and an afternoon tea party at the Russian Tea Time restaurant.    

As Women for Others, we’ve also made it a point to give back to our community in a meaningful way.  With the help of the JLC volunteers, Las Chicas have made blankets and diaper packs for the Pilsen Pantry and together we’ve organized a school-wide drive to help support the work of the Chicago Period Project.   

One of our favorite JLC events that JLC volunteers organized was a Q&A with Angelica Varela, the owner of Semillas Plant Studio, a small local business in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Angelica showed our girls that someone from their neighborhood who looks like them, and comes from a similar background, could dream big and can do hard things. It was a powerful conversation, followed by a fun floral arrangement class!   

Since our partnership started with the Junior League of Chicago, our Chicas meeting attendance has doubled, and participation has been more consistent than ever.   

There are so many benefits to participating in Las Chicas, but the one I am most passionate about is providing opportunities for self-reflection and self-care.  It is not lost on me that women often wear many hats and fill many roles in their lives.  In Las Chicas, we set intentions for the time we are all together.  We then bring the focus and attention back to ourselves and the critical inner work that needs to happen to feel whole and comfortable in our own skin.  Every day we work on becoming free of unfair and unrealistic societal expectations and we learn to nurture ourselves and each other. I am so happy to be able to continue to provide these types of opportunities for our Chicas.       

The Las Chicas Mission Statement:  

Las Chicas is a place of safety, kindness, and respect.  
Las Chicas is open-minded and friendly, non-judgmental, and full of joy.   
Las Chicas builds a community for all women at Cristo Rey.   
As Las Chicas, we take care of each other and ourselves. We own our bodies and our minds and practice compassion for both.   
We cultivate inner peace through meaningful sisterhood.  
The more we learn, the more we grow; as such, we seek not perfection but humility and courage.  
As Las Chicas, we have confidence because we know our strengths and weaknesses.   
We celebrate our Latina identities, and we honor our ancestral power.   
We are positive, optimistic, and ambitious, with open hearts.  
We are Las Chicas, and we are fierce forces of nature.    

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Cristo Rey Partners with Economic Awareness Council to Bring Financial Literacy to the Classroom

Last fall, Cristo Rey partnered with the Economic Awareness Council, a non-profit organization with a mission to prepare students and families for the economic and financial decisions they will make both today and tomorrow, to teach financial literacy classes to our freshman and sophomore trainers. About 90 freshman and 20 sophomores participated in this semester-long course, learning about budgeting, building credit, college financing and more! The Economic Awareness Council also brought in industry experts for students to connect with and learn about the banking and finance industry. Over the course of the class, students increased their financial literacy from 52% correct responses on their pre-test to 88% correct responses on their post-test.

The Economic Awareness Council works with a coalition of banking partners across Chicago to ensure all households have access to safe and affordable bank accounts, some of whom are also Cristo Rey CWSP job sites, including BMO Harris Bank, Byline Bank Marquette Bank, and Wintrust Bank.

Learn more about the Economic Awareness Council.

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EY Connect Day at Cristo Rey Jesuit

Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP) partner EY recently spent an afternoon at Cristo Rey Jesuit, working with freshmen students. Each week, nearly 90 freshmen students participate in a full-day professional development curriculum to prepare them for their first job placement. Cristo Rey has partnered with renowned organizations to provide students with a high-quality training program.  A typical daily schedule includes courses from The Economic Awareness Council, Code Nation, NextWave STEM, Rush Neurobehavioral Lab, and Khan Academy.

Corporate partners are also invited to engage with students to provide insight into a professional environment. As part of their EY Connect Day: Supporting the Next Generation series, volunteers from EY came to Cristo Rey. Nearly 20 professionals visited the school, receiving a tour before working with students in small groups. Volunteers spoke to students about their career path, from choosing a college major, securing an internship, and navigating the corporate world. The room was roaring with conversation throughout the sessions.   

In a show of the impact of the CWSP, two Cristo Rey alumni were part of the group of volunteers. Alexis Garcia '16 and Marybel Del Real '16 both work full-time at EY, and shared their learnings with students. “Having alumni present at career events is a true testament of the success of the Cristo Rey model. These alumni were once in the same position as the freshmen they now advise, and their stories and achievements are tangible,” says Cristo Rey President Antonio Ortiz. 

EY has partnered with Cristo Rey Jesuit in Pilsen since 2013, employing a full team of students at their Chicago office. EY is also a national Cristo Rey Network partner, with a presence in a dozen Cristo Rey schools across the US. Thank you to EY for your investment in the next generation!

 EY volunteers with Cristo Rey Jesuit freshmen.

 EY volunteers and Cristo Rey Jesuit alumni Alexis Garcia '16 and Marybel Del Real '16

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¡VIVA! 2023

Join us on May 4, 2023, at a new venue right here in Pilsen. as we celebrate our mission and raise funds for our hard-working young men and women.
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