Searcy Girls for Christ gaining confidence while serving others

Girls for Christ members Monica Griffin, 13, Dana Thompson, 17, and Ana Gomez, 12, pray a rosary in front of Little Rock Family Planning Services, an abortion clinic, on Oct. 6.
Girls for Christ members Monica Griffin, 13, Dana Thompson, 17, and Ana Gomez, 12, pray a rosary in front of Little Rock Family Planning Services, an abortion clinic, on Oct. 6.

Four years ago, Jill Thompson of St. James Church in Searcy realized young parishioners needed a buoy in the sea of evangelical Protestant churches surrounding her tiny parish.
In particular, she saw the need for young women to experience “islands of time” away, not as an exclusionary escape from reality, but as a way of developing a more personal relationship with Christ.
And, as an extension of developing a Christ-centered life, Thompson said she also saw how the young Catholic women in her church craved opportunities to build their self-confidence before they encountered the adult challenges of being a 21st-century Catholic.
What began as weekly Scripture study meetings in her home has evolved into a formidable group of roughly 10 young ladies, known as Girls for Christ, who have reached out to serve the needy, not only in Searcy, but also in areas far beyond.
Thompson, who provides home schooling for three sons (one son is already in college) and her only daughter, chose to model the group on others that help cultivate strong female leaders.
“They came up with their own name. It’s amazing what kids can do when they learn about God,” said Thompson, explaining how the group came to fruition.
“It’s a lot like Girl Scouts, only it’s Catholic,” she added. “But the larger foundation is love and how that is expressed in an all-embracing way for the well-rounded Catholic girl.”
The young women — comprised primarily of fifth graders to 17-year-olds — have found numerous expressions of Christian love since their formation. One such opportunity was through reciting the rosary in front of an abortion clinic in Little Rock Oct. 6.
Marta Gomez, 17, has been with Girls for Christ since its inception. Though she was unable to participate in this year’s rosary, she participated in years past and said memories of those events have haunted her ever since.
“It’s sad and it stays with you for a while,” Gomez said. “You hear about abortion every day, but to see someone escorted by their mother, father or boyfriend into the clinic, you wonder about that. You wonder if they encouraged it or if they are just there to support them, and you realize all the people affected by that one decision.”
Gomez also drove with her mother and sister to Jackson, Miss., in June, to participate in a Catholic HEART Workcamp — a national organization whose primary mission is to revitalize communities and beautify homes for the elderly, disabled and those who cannot afford needed repairs.
Gomez said her goal was to return to Searcy and provide information on whether the camp might be a good fit as a future project for Girls for Christ.
“It was really good, but it was hard work and it was a little bit stressful,” she said, adding that her group was given several days to paint the interior of a home in a low-income neighborhood.
“It was dirty, so we had to really scrub the walls,” she said. “Still to this day, when I smell paint combined with cleaning stuff, it makes me a little nauseous … but we met the people who lived at the house and got to know them a bit, so that was the good part.”
“We were sad to say goodbye to them, but not the hard work,” Gomez said, laughing.
Girls for Christ, she said, has played a significant part in making her “more passionate about being a Catholic” and helped her tap into leadership capabilities not yet fully realized.
“I’m not a very outgoing or social person, but I think I’m capable of being put in a leadership position,” she said. “I have that capability. I can teach and bring a message to girls my age.”
Jill Thompson’s daughter, Dana, 17, is one of the leaders in Girls for Christ. She has participated with Gomez in numerous activities through the years, including caroling at local nursing homes during the Christmas season, creating tabletop crucifixes for a fundraiser for St. Valentine’s Day and joining in collective prayers for vocations.
For two years in a row Dana Thompson said she has traveled to Missouri to attend a weeklong leadership convention sponsored by Challenge Clubs for Girls, an international organization that supports the intellectual, apostolic, spiritual and social development of young Catholic women.
“We have lots of fun, we attend daily Mass,” Thompson said, describing the appeal of the camp. “It’s an opportunity to grow in faith in an environment where you can enjoy being a girl and not worry about boys.”
Jill Thompson, who came to Arkansas from Wisconsin 10 years ago, said Girls for Christ meets weekly and strives to give girls the chance to develop their full leadership potential even as it helps them overcome the challenges of belonging to a religious minority in the South.
“Sometimes you feel like ’odd girl out,’ as a Catholic in this area,” she said. “But this group helps you realize you’re not as alone as you originally thought.”
The group has full support at the parish level and falls under the umbrella of a broader Catholic Youth Ministry program now directed by Thompson.
A family home on the parish grounds was recently donated for all Catholic youth of the parish and is being refurbished by Girls for Christ, she said.
“I can’t express what a great gift that has been,” Thompson said summarizing her feelings about the group. “It’s a refreshing, cool drink of water for these girls and even their parents … They have become confident walking apostles who reflect the love of Christ. Building this love helps them be a good witness.”

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