Thirteen-year-old Justine Manu aspires to be neurosurgeon so she can help people do more in the world and make it a better place. Denise Campbell aspires to be a veterinarian and a famous basketball player. The first ambition stems from her love for animals, while the second passion runs in her family.
These are two of the students the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation aimed to motivate during their Winter ASPIRE Summit, which was held Thursday at Redskins Park.
Seventy-five seventh graders from Loudoun County and Fairfax County Public Schools took over the team facility for an initiative focused on inspiring, educating and building confidence in young women.
"It's all about empowering them and making sure they remember they are beautiful, they are amazing, they are confident young girls and they can do any and everything they put their minds to," said GeNienne Samuels, the president and CEO of Sideline Prep and the Washington Redskins in-game host who served as the emcee for the ASPIRE event. "We had some amazing panelists here to remind them of that and to underscore the importance of thinking positive and being the best version of themselves that they can possibly be."
After brief opening remarks, Samuels introduced Dr. Robin West as the keynote speaker. West kicked off the event sharing her journey towards becoming the President of Inova Musculoskeletal Service Line, Chairman of Inova Sports Medicine and Head Team Physician of the Washington Redskins. The path to success included many trials and tribulations, West said, but she persevered through the tough times and encouraged the audience to do the same.
Sprinkled throughout the talk were several themes, such as learning from failures, getting comfortable being uncomfortable, trying new things and not being afraid. West reassured the young women that if they put themselves out there, they'll be successful in whatever they choose to pursue.
"This age is hard for girls," West said. "They're being tested, friendships are being tested, social media being out there. So I think having a conference like this and being surrounded by girls of their ages and hearing from other women who have been there and done it and are now successful in certain aspects of life, I think it's very encouraging and helps to build their confidence."
The ASPIRE initiative, created for 7th grade girls, focused on inspiring, educating and building confidence in young women from Loudoun County and Fairfax County Public Schools. All participating students were selected by school counselors and career specialists based on need and readiness.
The winter summit allowed students to hear from a panel of influential women in the sports industry coming from a variety of career paths and backgrounds. The students will then go more in-depth on topics in specialized breakouts around social entrepreneurship and creating a healthier version of themselves. Students will enjoyed lunch in the team dining facility before dividing into two breakout sessions to continue the summit.
Following her speech, West joined a group of panelists that included Washington Spirit Chief Marketing Officer Gretchen Hamm, Olympian and Washington Capitals' Hockey Ambassador Haley Skarupa and International Health & Fitness Expert, FAB BODY FACTORY Owner and Nike Trainer Deanna Robinson.
With Samuels moderating, each woman described her background and career experience while sharing advice with the audience. Both Manu and Campbell called the panel discussion their favorite part of the day.
"If you want to be somebody that you want to be, and a person is telling you not to, don't listen," said Campbell, who attends Harper Park Middle School in Leesburg, Virginia. "Just do what you want to do."
Following a nutritious lunch prepared by Redskins Executive Chef Connor McGuire, the girls broke into two groups for breakout sessions. Half of the students learned about social entrepreneurship and fitness with Robinson in the indoor practice facility, while the other half engaged in a "The Best Is Yet To Come" discussion in the team auditorium. After switching activities, the girls congregated for closing remarks and a team picture.
Manu, who was attending her first ASPIRE summit, really enjoyed the event and learned that whatever goes on in life, she'll be able to learn and benefit from it. It's these lessons that Manu plans to share with her classmates back at Holmes Middle School in Alexandria, Virginia.
"I think I can show them leadership and other stuff and inspire them to do what they want."