Collaboration. A noun I am continually thankful for, especially when applied to my internship context here at Girls in the Game in Chicago. I have worked at four non-profits in my six years in the workforce before attending graduate school for a masters in social work, but this agency stands out for its trust in and encouragement of its workers.

On February 14, I came to the office wearing grey (Note: my outfit incorporated not a shred of red or pink) to prepare the curriculum I would teach later that day. I read over the last section of our three-part curriculum series regarding emotional health (the first part, diversity and second, dance, though every 3 weeks we rotate curriculum series). As laughter surrounded my cubicle, I overheard a brilliant idea: provide craft supplies for the girls to write themselves valentines cards.

I am a certified Kindergarten through ninth grade teacher, and have had much experience planning and implementing lessons. I love working at Girls in the Game because the curriculum I receive for each group is thoughtful and reliable, and yet when specific needs of my girls becomes apparent, creativity strikes me, or upcoming holidays provide an opportunity to celebrate, we on staff are welcomed to modify it. Savannah, a colleague in the daytime high school program had done that lesson earlier that day. Her examples were touching, and some, quite hilarious.

That day, thanks to that organic in-office collaboration, we at North Lawndale had a very pertinent emotional health lesson.

And that spirit of collaboration and teamwork carries into programming. I love the group of 8-10 year old girls with whom I spend each Thursday afternoon. I love how they reacted after reuniting after the winter break, twirling with giggles and screams when I showed them the new ring on my left finger (truly, theirs was the best celebration I received). I love how they shower hugs when a despondent teammate tells -after many caring questions- about her uncle’s car accident. I love how, without hesitation, the team suggested jump rope as our final activity for the day because it was that student’s favorite activity, sending her home with a smile. I love how these girls are eager to lead; they take attendance, write name tags for their teammates, and even carry our cumbersome bags. And I love that they love themselves.

The valentine cards written to  themselves inspired some to write cards to me and my co-coach. Who knows how they continued to encourage others when they took these cards home. I wonder if some decided to share love with their parents or younger brother. I wonder if upon seeing the girls’ valentine notes to themselves, their families agreed with the sentiments and added more. I wonder how such a culture of self-esteem and encouragement will strengthen families, neighborhoods, and the world. I wonder about how lucky I am to play a small roll in these girls’ lives, and I wonder how powerful the ripple effects of a simple, collaborative lesson can be.