The community work Alicia Birong does is not always visible on the outside
For more than 30 years, Birong has been creating change from the inside out – one person at a time.
The 62-year-old Texas native has dedicated the majority of her time to helping young girls build the self esteem and self respect needed to achieve personal success and develop strong community leadership skills. Whether as a youth minister, life coach, counselor or therapist, Birong said she tries to reach out anyway she can.
“I, myself, had low self esteem for a long time when I was growing up, and it took a long time to develop,” Birong said.
“That’s why my passion is helping young girls change themselves in order to change the world.”
Birong has increased her efforts in recent years, starting a program called Chattergirls that she said she hopes to spread regionally and nationally.
The program has classes for girls 8 to 10 years old and 11 to 13 years old. There are no more than 10 girls per session to allow the youngsters to deal with self-esteem issues on a one-on-one-basis.
The name of the program, she said, references the “chatter” young girls hear from peer groups, pop culture and mass media that could make them feel inferior.
Birong said she also uses high school students in the program to bridge the gap many girls fear in the jump to high school.
“They are helping young girls and themselves because they are learning about their own self esteem through the process,” Birong said.
While she also helps older women and men, young girls are the most vulnerable to deal with self esteem issues for a long time if not addressed early, Birong said. She cited a recent study in one of her professional psychology journals that found girls between 8 and 13 years old could carry self esteem and self respect issues into their 30s before rehabilitation occurs.
Bernard Boyle, a member of Resurrection Catholic Church in Woodstock, has seen the positive influence Birong has had on young girls and boys through her work as a youth minister.
“She’s just extremely giving and a really positive role model,” Boyle said. “She puts in so much time with young people, and you can see them respond to her in a positive way. There is a connection she has.”
Birong has started to expand the program, partnering with agencies such as FamiliesETC and Home of the Sparrow to provide emotional assistance for those using the services. Birong said she hopes to become more involved in schools, churches and other community organizations in the near future.
Though she has worked with youth since her high school graduation, Birong said her passion for helping the young is strong and plans on doing anything she can for as long as she can – especially as the problem grows.
“I see it getting worse. It used to start in high school but now it happens at the 8- to 10-year-old group,” Birong said of the feelings of self doubt and self hatred. “Bullying starts earlier, and the stresses of the media into their lives are more prevalent and nonstop.”
More information about Birong’s work can be found at www.chattergirls.net.