REGIONAL—Girls everywhere have been meeting the Savior for 50 years.
It’s been happening a lot longer than that, but GEMS (Girls Everywhere Meeting the Savior) Girls’ Clubs have had a role for that long.
The organization, which is offered by local churches and other Christian organizations throughout the United States and Canada, was initiated in 1959 by Barb Vredevoogd, who was a member of the Christian Reformed Church in Wyoming, MI.
Vredevoogd, who had two young children, wanted a Bible program for young girls, so she took it upon herself to create Calvinettes, which over the years has morphed into GEMS Girls’ Club.
The relationship-building club created specifically for girls in grades 1-8 has its roots in the CRC denomination but now is nondenominational. GEMS is offered throughout N’West Iowa with programs in Hospers, Hull, Inwood, Ireton, Ocheyedan, Orange City, Sanborn, Sheldon, Sioux Center, Sibley, Rock Rapids and Rock Valley.
Paulette DeWeerd and Loretta Vander Streek of Rock Rapids have served as officers for the Northern Iowa coalition for three years — DeWeerd as the leadership trainer and Vander Streek as the area coordinator. Both also are counselors for the Rock Rapids chapter.
The two are ringing in the club’s birthday with a special celebration 1-4 p.m. Saturday, June 27, at the walking trails in Rock Valley.
With the theme, “Walk the Micah Road Experience,” club members will host a walkathon to collect pledges for individual chapters and to cover any expenses for putting on the event. A portion of the proceeds also will help GEMS Girls’ Clubs in Africa.
Three stations will be set up.
The first, “Doing Justice,” will shed light on poverty across the world, particularly for children in Africa who do not have the opportunity to go to school.
“Loving Mercy” will be the theme of the second station, where three plates will be set out — one with the typical American meal of steak and potatoes, one with the typical world meal of beans and rice and one with the typical poverty meal, an empty plate.
An activity also will allow participants to chose a story line for a fictional character named Sarah.
“You have to make all of her life choices for her,” DeWeerd said. “They are all really difficult questions, and the outcome turns out different each time you do it.”
The story has participants go through a series of choices, including whether Sarah should continue to stay at her job and remain below the poverty line or go back to school but have no money because she cannot work.
“It’s really an eye-opener,” Vander Streek said. “At least for me it was.”
The third station, “Walking Humbly with God,” is focused on recycling and other green-related activities.
At the station, participants also will be encouraged to paint words or encouraging pictures on a dining fly, which Vander Streek will send to the American Red Cross chapter in Sioux Falls, SD. The dining fly will be used as a place to eat under in disaster areas.
“Hopefully, they will never have to use it,” Vander Streek said.
Over the years
Vander Streek and DeWeerd have recognized changes throughout the club’s history.
When Vredevoogd formed the club in 1959, each member was required to wear a uniform consisting of a white top, blue bottoms and a badge scarf.
That has changed significantly.
“Now, we can’t get the girls to wear uniforms or their scarves,” Vander Streek said.
Instead, the Rock Rapids chapter has taken it upon itself to create its own uniforms each year by making colorful T-shirts.
“The girls have a lot more fun doing that,” Vander Streek said.
The organization still is biblical based, but DeWeerd said the club is quite a bit more exciting now — at least more so than when she was a member.
“They’ve definitely spiced it up a little bit,” she said.
While the club offers a different look at the Bible, it challenges the girls to break out of their comfort zones and try activities they normally wouldn’t. Similar to Girl Scouts, each member has the chance to earn many badges pertaining to God’s world, God’s Word and each girl’s talents and gifts.
“The badges require a lot of Bible work, but it’s not like they’re actually sitting down and reading it,” Vander Streek said. “They look up verses, and that adds a little more excitement.”
Through community and church involvement in the chapter, the girls who come from West Lyon, Central Lyon, Hull Christian and Ellsworth, MN, schools have the opportunity to express their creativity, become involved and interact with new people.
“It’s a place for them to come and feel like they belong,” DeWeerd said. “They don’t need to worry about not knowing enough about the Bible.”
BY THE NUMBERS:
23,000 GEMS Girls’ Club members in the United States and Canada.
5,200 women serving as counselors for GEMS in the United States and Canada.
800 clubs in the United States and Canada.
400 members in the Northern Iowa region.
18 clubs in the Northern Iowa region.
150 women serving as counselors in the Northern Iowa region.
15 girls who are members of the Rock Rapids GEMS Girls’ Club.
3 counselors who serve the Rock Rapids GEMS Girls’ Club.
This article appeared in the June 20, 2009 edition of The N'West Iowa REVIEW.