Forging bonds of sisterhood

Jaelly Martinez, left, Emelsi Bueso, Sonia Lovos, Xiomara Lovos and Erin McDonald hold a check for $5,000 from Loudoun Youth to IRIS, Instilling Responsible Ideals Through Sisterhood. The group is planning a Girls Night Out for Saturday.
Jaelly Martinez, left, Emelsi Bueso, Sonia Lovos, Xiomara Lovos and Erin McDonald hold a check for $5,000 from Loudoun Youth to IRIS, Instilling Responsible Ideals Through Sisterhood. The group is planning a Girls Night Out for Saturday. (Courtesy Of Iris)

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By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 11, 2010

Stephanie Murray used to be one of the mean girls you see in movies about high school.

"I was mean and popular," said Stephanie, a senior at Dominion High School in Sterling. "I had major attitude problems. I didn't listen to anybody. I didn't really care."

Last year, Stephanie discovered the after-school girls club IRIS, which stands for Instilling Responsible Ideals Through Sisterhood.

For Stephanie, the activities, the "bonding trips" and the principles behind IRIS have brought her closer to girls she didn't know in her early, clique-centered high school days.

"My teachers and my principal will tell you that I've improved so much since my freshman year of high school," Stephanie said. "I'm more caring. I think of all the girls in IRIS as my sisters. I care for them as my sisters. I protect them as my sisters. If they ever need me, I will be here, because they are my sisters."

IRIS teaches real-life lessons that the young women weren't receiving in the classroom, said Jennifer Rutkowski, the Loudoun County parks and recreation teen specialist, who created the organization. IRIS, which started as a pilot program at Dominion, spread to Potomac Falls and Broad Run high schools this year.

IRIS tackles subjects as varied as Internet safety and cooking, and it offers field trips and bonding activities such as mother-daughter brunches and self-esteem-building workshops.

Now, the students are taking on their largest project yet: Girls Night Out. The event, scheduled for 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday at Dominion, is open to female high school students throughout the county.

"We're taking the IRIS program and blowing it up times 10 so others can experience it," Rutkowski said.

The program will feature breakout sessions on self-defense, nutrition, health, beauty and fashion. Advance tickets are $5; at the door, $7.

The keynote speaker will be Beth Holloway, who will talk about the disappearance of her daughter Natalee Holloway in Aruba five years ago. Natalee, who had just graduated from high school, was visiting Aruba on her senior trip when she disappeared. The case remains unsolved.

After Holloway's speech, actor and feminist Ben Atherton-Zeman will perform a one-man play. Atherton-Zeman is a spokesman for the National Organization for Men Against Sexism. He uses humor and celebrity impressions to educate audiences about sexual violence, dating violence and rape.


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