While many of her fellow classmates were concerning themselves with J2’s ever-changing menu, nutrition junior Lauren Caton, the founder and current president of GirlAdvocates! was seeking out UT students to join her in an effort to reform societal standards.
GirlAdvocates! is a UT organization focused on empowering young girls through education, positive self-image and health. Like many young girls, Caton experienced a lack of self-confidence during her adolescent years, which led to a desire for guidance and need for support. She was able to emerge from her negative experiences with a goal in mind.
“These experiences helped me realize how much support one needs during this vulnerable time period,” Caton said. “Since then, I have always been passionate about helping young adolescent girls develop their potential.”
The members of the organization serve as mentors for girls in the sixth, seventh or eigth grade at Webb Middle School. Mentors have to go through a training session with Austin Partners in Education, which fosters volunteer-driven mentoring programs in Austin Independent School District. The sessions help the mentors improve their communication skills.
“[We] try to be on their level so they think of us as peers, not teachers,” GirlAdvocates! Vice President Anna Marie Pratas said. “Potential members must understand that it is an open discussion with the mentees.”
While participating in GirlAdvocates!, members become role models and friends with their mentees, meeting in weekly mentor lunches. On any given Friday, Caton, along with two or three other members, drive to the middle school around noon. They often promise their mentees the week prior that they will bring Chick-fil-A or candy with them to their next visit.
GirlAdvocates! makes an effort to introduce the girls to the concept of going to college. By tuning them in at a young age, GirlAdvocates! hopes to inspire them to consider it a feasible option.
Caton and her mentee Ashley Ortiz frequently talk about the UT campus, and more recently, Ortiz’s application for Breakthrough Austin, a local summer program that helps to prepare students for college. Ortiz is interested in the college experience. While the art school sparked her curiosity, she was quick to bring up an interest in chemistry.
Caton and her fellow mentors make an effort to be there for the girls every week. Role models do not come in the form of acquaintances — they form through consistent exposure and reliable support. GirlAdvocates! takes pride in creating and fostering these relationships in an attempt to prevent the negativity that Caton and so many others dealt with during these same impressionable years.