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'It lets them know they have a voice': Summer camp aims to boost girls' public speaking skills

“Hi, I'm Justine. And today I'll be introducing Amanda,” Justine Crespo, a 16-year-old junior, said as she took the mic in a dimly lit Springfield Technical Community College classroom.

Justine was giving the biography of one of her peers. It’s an exercise during the Take the Mic summer camp, which aims to empower young women of color to feel confident when speaking in public.

“She's from Kenya and also has an uncle in the UK. She loves her dad, who is all over the world helping…helping…solving problems. Please welcome Amanda,” Justine said.

It was only the second day of the week-long program and one of Justine's first times speaking in front of the 10 girls, ranging in age from 11 to 17.

Volunteer Monica Wright asked the students how it felt to hear somebody present their biographies.

“I thought it was fun, but then it was also weird to hear out loud,” Justine said.

Wright said not only is it hard to write about yourself, but also difficult to speak about another person to a large group of people. She said the exercise will be good practice for when the girls introduce guest speakers throughout the week.

“We're going to present our guest speakers like — how? How we want to be presented,” Wright said.

A few participants, including Justine Crespo (top left), think of business pitches to present on the second day of the Take the Mic program.
Nirvani Williams
/
NEPM
A few participants, including Justine Crespo (top left), think of business pitches to present on the second day of the Take the Mic program.

The program was started by Ayanna Crawford, chief of staff for state Rep. (and Springfield mayoral candidate) Orlando Ramos.

Every day they hear from one guest speaker, usually a media professional from Springfield, and practice speaking and writing through various activities. One is to write a persuasive business pitch to investors.

“My name is Justine and I would like to tell you about my salon, called Dolly Salon. It's a nail business,” Justine said.

The girls were asked to think about how their businesses would help their communities.

“I think this will improve the life of others by making it — not only making you feel confident, but making it a safe space for others to escape and be at peace and talk about all your problems,” Justine said.

She got past her stutters and stumbles and made her way through the pitch.

“So if I can make a business out of that, then I already won,” Justine said, ending on a high note. She got a round of applause from the group.

For their final presentation, the students were asked to create a community service project by the end of the week. Justine’s project was on ways to beautify Springfield.

Justine Crespo, 16, holding up community service presentation that she presented on the final day of Springfield's Take the Mic program.
Monica Wright
/
Submitted
Justine Crespo, 16, holding up community service presentation that she presented on the final day of Springfield's Take the Mic program.

“Beautifying the city is one of the best ways we can create a safe and positive community just by gardening and landscaping. It not only brings people together, but also creates a better environment,” Justine said, with perfect delivery.

After their presentations, volunteer Monica Wright hosted a graduation ceremony for the girls. She said she couldn’t believe how much Justine improved throughout the week.

“I just want to say thank you. I really see growth in you,” Wright said, handing Justine a certificate at an STCC podium. “She came in with this little mousy voice, nobody could hear a word she was saying, and now — you know what she is? She's confident.”

After the certificates were passed out and the girls screamed their goodbyes, Wright looked around the empty classroom with tears in her eyes. She said the program really empowered the girls.

“It lets them know they have a voice and it lets them know that they can work and also have their voice be heard,” Wright said.

And Justine Crespo has plans to be heard. She said she’s serious about actually doing her community service project — gardening and landscaping around the city.

“I think it would be really cool if I could, like, get the community service thing started up," Justine said. "I would like to make that kind of change. Because I feel like, if I don't, then no one will."

Nirvani Williams covers socioeconomic disparities for New England Public Media, joining the news team in June 2021 through Report for America.
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