Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Teen Starts 3 Nonprofit Organizations

Jillian Roels knows what it's like being bullied.  The grief she experienced in junior high school inspired her to start three nonprofits, including a chapter of Girl Talk, a mentoring program for middle-school girls.

“I wish I’d had something like this to go to when I was dealing with tough stuff in junior high,” she said.

Jillian meets with a group of elementary school girls at Rosa Parks Elementary once a week. Using free materials provided by Girl Talk, the girls discuss subjects such as body image, friendship, and dealing with divorce.

She also meets with a group of junior high girls once or twice a month, discussing topics more appropriate for this age group, such as teen partying, depression and dating. By sharing her own experiences, Jillian helps the girls open up about theirs.

Listening skills are emphasized. Vanessa, a sixth grader, says, “You can say what’s on your mind, and they’ll listen and try to help sometimes.”

Marisa, also in sixth grade, was very shy when she joined the group. Now she speaks up confidently and likes being able to share her feelings. She also likes having an older role model.

“Jillian is a good person to look up to,” she said.

BEFORE STARTING her Girl Talk chapter, Jillian was already giving back in big—and small—ways. Two years ago, she created Spark Your Heart to inspire and perform small acts of kindness.

The idea grew out of an encounter with a homeless man selling roses on a street corner. She brought him snacks and small gifts to cheer him up, and the experience inspired her to continue performing acts of kindness all over town.

Since then, Jillian has babysat for special needs students, cheered on Special Olympics participants, written letters to military personnel overseas, brought flowers to retirement homes, collected items for the homeless, and—well, the list goes on.

“My passion lies in helping others,” she said.

When she learned about families who couldn’t pay the bills for their children’s medical care, Jillian created Spark Your Little Heart, a Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild that raises funds for uncompensated care. She has organized auctions, teddy bear teas and other events, and recently collected hats for children with cancer and stuffed animals for young hospital patients.

Many of these community service projects have been done in tandem with Jillian’s Girl Talk groups.

“Every day provides an opportunity to make a difference, and even a little bit goes a long way," she says.

Two years ago, she decided to try something new: a scholarship pageant. Besides the chance for scholarships, Jillian said she entered "for the experience.” She was chosen Miss Redmond Teen USA 2011, and she also competed in the Miss Seattle Pageant this Saturday, earning the scholarship award for community outreach.

Jillian is excited about college next year, where she plans to major in sociology. She hopes to find a way to combine her studies with some of her other interests—working with special needs kids, writing and interior design.

Whatever Jillian chooses to do with her life, you can be sure it will be more than just talk.


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