“Feeling is healing” is a phrase Irit Weir uses often. It could be the tag line for her Napa acupuncture clinic and it has led her to offer her expertise to Napa teens, helping them to change their lives in positive ways.
Born in Israel, Weir has always been interested in helping people to resolve conflict. In 2009 when one of her three children was a student at River School, Weir volunteered her services to lead a workshop she called Empowerment for Girls. Since then more than 100 Napa girls of middle school and high school age have attended her free workshops.
During one 12-hour day, girls are invited to enter into a community of trust and compassion where they can share their worries and conflicts, their goals and dreams. One student evaluation noted, “I let out what I felt and hopefully it made other girls think about speaking up.”
Weir says, “Moving through and expressing feelings associated with major events in a safe space allow us to move on. We need to name what hurts us in order to then drop it.”
As the girls tell their stories — many of them admit they’ve talked about topics they were not comfortable sharing in psychotherapy — the adult leaders, through role play, show the girls how to alter their realities. Before the day is over the girls have a chance to write, talk and create skits about the issues they have tackled.
Many of the participants leave with a new outlook on the conflicts in their lives, ways to change their thoughts and coping behaviors, and a newfound sense of confidence and sisterhood. On many evaluations, students wanted the day to last longer. Some have taken the workshop two or more times.
Weir’s daughter Maya, a UC Berkeley graduate who attended River School and New Tech High, was a facilitator and co-founder of a women’s consciousness-raising group at Cal for three years. She helps with the Napa program by leading sessions on yoga, meditation and body image. The goal is to harness the mind-body connection. The girls explore what it is to be male or female and share their feelings about their bodies and the messages they receive about their appearance from friends, family and the culture at large.
Maya says, “Life can feel isolating especially amongst the pressures of school, family and friends. Having space to express deeper feelings and having those feelings held can be a transformative experience. While everyone’s stories are different, there is a sense of connection and community which feels very nurturing. I think it’s very important for this program to continue if we want young women to feel empowered and resilient amongst the challenges they face.”
Workshops usually include painful stories from girls who feel devalued through divorce, absence or death of a parent, being forced into adult roles too young, bullying, or gang involvement. All of the participants benefit from compassionate listening and developing a vision for the future.
Haley Olson, a sophomore at Vintage High, took the workshop in seventh and eighth grades. She says, “I was pretty shy. I became more confident and afterwards I was able to talk to people.”
Manon Murphy, a junior at New Tech High, has taken the workshop three times. For her it was a place to talk about things she couldn’t talk to anyone about, “a place to open up and see that other people have the same issues.”
Napa High counselor Stefanie LaMarca has helped Weir run the workshops. She knows that students need to become more self-aware and to develop strategies to help them through tough times. LaMarca offers workshops for her own students on stress and anxiety management.
With Weir’s children out of the school system and changes in personnel at Napa schools, sign-ups for the program have dwindled. One or more volunteers are needed to keep it going. The volunteers would contact local middle and high schools, engage their help in spreading the word, solicit applications from girls, get parent permission, and handle the exchange of information about dates, times and place.
If you or your organization are interested in getting involved, contact Weir at firstname.lastname@example.org.