Bucks County Changemakers Interview with ‘Girls Empowered’ Founder Dawn Haaz

"It is our hope to EMPOWER as many girls as we can in the community."
Camp Girl Power campers celebrate tehir last day. Photo courtesy of Dawn Haaz.

Not every superhero wears a cape, or perhaps in the case of Dawn Haaz, PsyD, it is simply invisible. She is an essential and active member of the Central Bucks community, a licensed psychotherapist, as well as the director of Girls Empowered – which provides a safe and inspiring space for girls to claim personal autonomy in a world that often attempts to keep them dependent and helpless. As a Baby Boomer who came of age at the onset of what was then called Women’s Lib, or the Women’s Liberation Movement, I wish this program had been around in the 1970s. I imagine that Gloria Steinem would give it two thumbs up.

What was the winding path that led you to found Girls Empowered?

In 2014, when I was a post-doc working at a private practice, I kept seeing girls and women of all ages struggling with many of the same issues, including low self-esteem, unhealthy relationships, negative body image, and poor communication skills. I thought, “What if girls were able to learn these skills at a young age as a preventative measure?” I started partnering with organizations to provide empowerment programs to girls on these topics. Then I created Camp Girl Power, a one-week empowerment camp that covers all of these topics and more. After one session of Camp Girl Power, I founded Girls Empowered in 2015 to provide empowerment programs to girls all year long. In 2017, Girls Empowered officially became a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

What happens when girls recognize their personal strengths and what happens when they don’t?

When girls recognize their strengths, they are more likely to feel good about themselves and utilize these strengths to meet their highest potential. They are more likely to make positive choices, have healthy relationships, and set and achieve their goals. When they don’t, they often feel lost and have low self-worth. They may lack direction, be more likely to make unhealthy decisions, develop unhealthy relationships or a lack of friends, and not fulfill their potential.

Why is confidence important?

Girls who are confident are more likely to make positive choices. They are less likely to give into peer pressure, more likely to set and complete goals, be assertive, and more likely to make decisions in their best interest.

What qualities are important components of empowerment?

Our organization defines being empowered as possessing the knowledge, skills, confidence, and resources to stand up for oneself, make positive choices, and be in control of one’s future.

How does your work as a psychotherapist influence the programs that Girls Empowered offers?

While we don’t provide therapy, we provide psychoeducation during our programs. We teach girls different skills and concepts, including the qualities of healthy versus unhealthy relationships, how to be assertive, the importance of self-care, what coping skills and thoughts are, and mindfulness among many other concepts. These are all skills/concepts I often bring into therapy with my clients as a licensed psychologist.

Have you heard from participants who are now adults about the trajectory of their lives as a result of being involved? Have they taken on leadership roles?

We haven’t heard from any adults, but we have had the pleasure of watching some of the girls who participate in our programs grow. One girl, Evi, started as a participant of our Girls Leadership Program in 2022. The next year, she was chosen as our Girls Empowered Award winner for middle school girls. This past summer, she was an intern at Camp Girl Power where the elementary school girls adored her. She has spoken out at several school board meetings against extremism and in support of marginalized groups.  We look forward to her continued growth in high school and are confident she will continue to be courageous and put her leadership skills to good use.

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Another girl, Lucy, completed our Girls Leadership Program in 2018.  In 2022, she was an intern for our Girls Leadership Program. She is now a high school senior applying to colleges where she wants to study medicine. Over the summer, Lucy has embarked on a three-week leadership adventure in Australia and Fiji. She was also selected to be part of the Koresh Youth Ensemble, a contemporary dance company in Philadelphia. It has been great watching these girls develop into young women and utilize the confidence and leadership skills they’ve developed to go after their goals and have a positive impact on society.

What are some of the programs available and how do girls get involved?

In the summer, we offer two weeklong summer empowerment programs. Camp Girl Power is for incoming 4th-6th grade girls and is a full-day camp that covers self-identity, self-esteem, self-care, healthy relationships, diversity, leadership, and team-building. Our Girls Leadership Program if a half-day program for incoming 7th-9th girls that teaches girls how to be leaders at school, in sports, other extracurricular activities, and in the community. These programs are open to the community. Registration will open in January for this coming summer.    

In addition to our summer programs, we partner with schools and girl groups throughout the year. We offer a 6-week long abbreviated version of Camp Girl Power to elementary schools as an afterschool program. We partner with Girl Scouts of Eastern PA to offer programs for girls to earn badges and journeys. Additionally, we partner with several other groups in the community to provide one-time programs on a range of empowerment topics. Here are the different topics we can cover.  We are always looking to expand our partnerships. You can follow our Facebook page here to learn more about our programs.

Please talk about the Girls Empowered Award. I know two of the winners. (Evi Casey and Zandi Hall) What qualities do you look for in nominees?

In 2021, we introduced the Girls Empowered Award. In March, which is Women’s History Month, we accept nominations from the community for girls from K-12th grade who are EMPOWERED. We look for girls who are positive role models, demonstrate active involvement and leadership in school and extracurricular activities in the community, and emulates our definition of “empowered” (i.e., Possesses the knowledge, skills, confidence, and resources to stand up for one’s self, make positive choices, and be in control of one’s future). We have a panel of three female judges from the community, usually some of our business sponsors, who read the nominations and choose the winners. We recognize a winner, runner up, and honorable mention for elementary school, middle school, and high school. You can read about our past winners here.

What local organizations are you partnering with?

We have partnered with many local organizations to provide programs to the girls they serve.  Some of our current partners include Girl Scouts of Eastern PA, YMCA of Bucks and Hunterdon Counties, the YWCA Bucks County, Nook Nook Creative Music School, National Charity League of Central Bucks, The Yoga Gnome, Central Bucks School District, and St. Joseph/St. Roberts Catholic School. 

Are you looking for adult mentors?

We don’t have a mentoring program at this time, but for some of our programs, we look for community members to speak to the girls. We have had women speak about their careers or teach the girls a new skill.  

If Girls Empowered could meet your fondest dreams, what would it do?

We are continuing to work on growing the organization by providing more programs, developing more partnerships, and reaching more girls. It is our hope to EMPOWER as many girls as we can in the community. We would love for Girls Empowered to be a household name that everyone knows in our community and the impact the organization has on the girls we serve.

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Edie Weinstein

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, journalist, interfaith minister, speaker and author. She is the co-founder of Bucks County Kind.

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