One day at a time, one girl at a time
“It takes a lot of audacity to change things—and I’m just that audacious, I guess,” Mariah Looney proclaims. It’s one of the few times she’s stepped into the limelight during our conversation, preferring to praise Sabrena Hernandez, Seidy Gastelum, and Monica Patel, her equally incredible board members, seated around her. But these are the words of a young woman whose reach has extended her organization across social media platforms to garner over 1500 followers on Facebook alone. This is the founding voice of Project Gia.
Project Gia, also known as Project Girls In Action, is a growing organization born in San Joaquin that empowers, and provides direction to local resources, for young girls ages 12 to 18. It began as a lunchtime discussion with Mariah’s professor. But after Mariah’s mother’s passing, she leapt headfirst into creating the project with a Facebook page that opened in January 2016 and a website that launched in July of the same year. “We started meeting with local business owners and organizations that believe in us,” Mariah states. “We went from just a Facebook page to a community of almost 2500 people on social media. And people message us asking to volunteer!”
“The community has helped shape a lot of what Project Gia is becoming,” Seidy elaborates. “It hasn’t just been us. And we’ve met with other women, more established women, who have steered us.”
“We’re always willing to sit down and meet with people who are interested in helping or have ideas or a business that they want to connect us to,” Sabrena adds. “We’re always open to meeting with people.”
Although Project Gia’s primary focus is to promote young girls online, the group hopes to expand their reach into classrooms, teaching students about online dangers. “Social Media is such a key thing in our time right now,” Monica points out. “Everyone’s on it, everyone’s using it, and I’ve seen a lot of cyber bullying.”
“We hope to hold workshops teaching girls and kids in general that you have to protect yourself on social media,” Mariah points out. “You have to know how to use it in the right way. Kids don’t realize that what they post up might influence their career.”
The program is continuously evolving through the board of directors and their junior counterparts, whom are in the age range the program is directed toward. The junior board helps to tailor the program into exactly what young woman need, keeping Project Gia looped into the current issues young women face. And as the program expands, so will its ambitions.
“Stockton needs this,” Mariah says. “We’re not thinking that we’re going to change the world, we’re thinking we’re going to change one girl at a time.”
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