ABLE Minds and Bodies
Good health, positive self-esteem, and a sense of personal power - three things all young women should have. Fortunately for Vineyard girls, they have the opportunity to learn about and build upon these gifts by participating in ABLE, a program offered by the YMCA of Martha's Vineyard. An acronym for Adolescent Balanced Living Experience, ABLE uses a holistic approach to improve the overall well-being of the girls. The goal is to provide the tools that improve overall physical health and mental health in a fun, supportive environment.
ABLE, a free program available to girls between the ages of 11 and 14 years old, has existed for three years, operating multiple sessions each year. The upcoming session will be the third spearheaded by Program Coordinator Nisa Webster and assisted by Nancy Canha, the assistant program coordinator.
Ms. Webster, who has a degree in wilderness leadership with a minor in education, combines her training with years of experience working with this age group. A seasoned leader, she has crewed on the schooner Alabama's kids' cruises, and led a number of wilderness adventure programs.
Photos by Ralph Stewart
ABLE girls have a full program. They commit to meet on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3 to 5:30 pm for eight weeks. During this time the girls spend Mondays together in discussions at the YMCA Teen Center at Cottagers Corner in Oak Bluffs. The main focus at the Monday meetings is discussions primarily led by the participants. The discussions get to the heart of what these girls really have questions about, and an anonymous question box is provided to the girls. Ms. Webster says this usually is a helpful start to discussions that girls might be uncertain or embarrassed about bringing up on their own. Topics cover a wide array of issues such as friend problems, bullying, family problems, nutrition, and health concerns. The leaders of ABLE offer advice on how to handle situations and answer questions, and are essentially a sounding board for the girls. As the weeks go by, the trust among the girls increases, and a close group is formed. Along with these group discussions, Mondays also offer time for team building games and guest speakers. Past guests have spoken to the group about self-defense, cooking, and yoga.
On Wednesdays, the group goes to destinations in the community.
Wednesdays mainly consist of physical activities. ABLE takes advantage of the special offerings of the Vineyard community with the intention of sparking new interests in various physical activities. One of the first destinations in most Wednesday sessions is to B-Strong, the gym in Oak Bluffs located on Kennebec Avenue. Owner Heather Neal sets up a circuit training session and a stretching session for the girls and also speaks to them about nutrition.
When asked about her experience with ABLE, Ms. Neal has nothing but positive things to say. "It's an outlet during a crucial time in these girls' lives. Regardless of home life, school life, social class, or race, they all have some things in common. It's great that they can meet and talk about certain issues that may not be addressed in other areas of their lives. I think they also get to meet other girls that they may not be inclined to interact with in other areas of their lives, directing them away from cliques."
Other community trips include a visit to the Mansion House where the girls try out water aerobics, diving, and also receive an overview of activities in the pool. At the Tennis Center they participate in dancing, personal training, and a mini tennis lesson.
ABLE has taken girls to a ropes course, to Felix Neck for kayaking, and on hikes around Martha's Vineyard. The final activity for most sessions is horseback riding at Arrowhead Farm where the girls participate in a group riding lesson. The girls who join this group are exposed to multiple activities that most young teens might not go out and try on their own.
When asked if she sees a change in the girls from the beginning of the session to the end, Ms. Webster smiles and responds, "Definitely." She adds, "I definitely notice that come the fifth or sixth week all pleasantries among the girls are dropped. They begin to bicker and you worry that the group is falling apart, but then the last couple of weeks you have a tight, inseparable group." Participants fill out feedback forms at the end of each session that are, she says, "pretty much across the board positive."
Ms. Webster points out that the girls who join come from all of the Martha's Vineyard schools, so they don't know each other at the beginning, "It's sweet to see the friendships and bonds created," she says.
Each year ABLE offers fall, winter, and spring sessions, each one limited to a group of 10 girls. Limiting the group's size allows the girls to really get to know one another, and also allows for easy accessibility to many of the activities. The coordinators ask the girls to sign a commitment contract that only allows them to miss a maximum of two sessions. Although the program is free, a commitment is needed in order for the program's goals to be reached.
Sign-up for the fall session of ABLE is November 7. The next session begins in January. ABLE has proved so successful the YMCA is starting an ABLE boys group that will be lead by YMCA program director, Donald Langley. For more information, go to ymcamv.org.
Dena Ventura is a freelance writer living in Vineyard Haven.