One-woman project aims to empower women

Sunday, April 8, 2012 | 4:01 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Unlike some exuberant and idealistic ideas of first-year students, Kelsey Lammy's had potential.

Three years ago, in a class that required students to think of a project that would "change the world," Lammy proposed a program that would help young women feel better about themselves and support each other as well.

Thus, she created "ROSE," which stands for "Raising Our Self Esteem." At Columbia schools and MU sororities, she became a one-person force for presentations that talked about self-esteem issues and perceptions of self. 

How it began

The summer before her junior year at MU, she decided to take action on her idea. Lammy said her inspiration came from being in so many women-centric activities — living in a sorority house, mentoring a sixth-grade girl for a year, taking part in the MU Women's Center's "Love Your Body Day" and mentoring a freshman girl in a leadership class.

She started giving talks to MU sororities that took a closer look at the influences and triggers of self-esteem, as well as how to improve it. Her techniques include using motivational messages and encouraging women to use positive, new ways to look at their bodies. Lammy said ROSE looks at what low self-esteem can affect: alcohol consumption, relationships and academic performance, among other things.

"Right now, it's just me," she said about the project.

However, she said she's eager to get others involved with her idea. She wants to spread the word about the project's goal: increasing women's self-esteem and encouraging them to do the same for others.

"It’s not just about empowering yourself, but also those around you," Lammy said with gusto. So, she decided to start with the people around her first: the sorority sisters of the Epsilon Iota chapter of Kappa Delta at MU.

In a recent event called "Prom Closet," Lammy and friend Laura Rizzo asked sororities if they had extra formal dresses or prom dresses that they would donate to young women in Columbia who might not be able to afford one of their own.

ROSE asked salons for donations and gift certificates for special-occasion hair treatments. They called the project "ROSE Garden."

When Lammy and Rizzo proposed their idea to sororities, Rizzo said the women's faces lit up because they were inspired to make a difference to some high school girls going to prom. 

“We all know that we have those dresses that we can’t wear more than once ... (The sorority sisters) remember their proms, and I think we all want (the high school girls') night to be as special as it can be," Rizzo said.  

Rizzo, who is in the same sorority as Lammy, emphasized that she wanted to support her friend's idea. Over dinner one evening, Lammy brought up the ROSE project, and Rizzo was inspired by Lammy's enthusiasm. 

"I can definitely see this project growing. Every high school has athletic teams and service projects, but I think that ROSE is unique," Rizzo said. 

Rizzo is graduating from MU in May, but she said she'll help Lammy out after she moves away.

What next?

In terms of growth, Lammy hopes she can work more with the community in Columbia, especially with schools. Before starting the ROSE project, she volunteered at a faith-based after school program called "Granny's House," where she worked with underprivileged children, helping them with homework, giving them snacks and hanging out.

She ended up hearing insecurities from many of the young girls that no one liked them because they didn’t wear the right clothes and that no one thought they were pretty.

Lammy realized that self-esteem problems start very early and that young girls could benefit from the program as well.

At Russell Boulevard Elementary School, she started a ROSE after-school program for fifth-grade girls. On a smartboard, she asked them questions, and they answered anonymously with clickers.

One question asked, "How often do I criticize myself?" The options were every day, every week, etc. The majority of the girls said they criticize themselves every day.

Lammy said many girls would choose the same answer, giving them a social-norming perspective. The girls were thinking along the same lines. 

"It's a vulnerable age when getting accepted is so important to them," Lammy said. "It can help them gain confidence knowing that they're not alone."

With another group of fourth-grade girls, Lammy gave the girls little mirrors that they then decorated with something positive about themselves. One girl wrote “the beauty is within” on her mirror.

Such positive language is incorporated in other activities as well. In one activity, the girls wrote three things they like about themselves that they see by looking in the mirror and three things they can’t see by looking in the mirror.

Lammy said the exercise offers a holistic perspective on the concept of self; It's not just appearances, and young women need to be reminded of that.

However, giving the presentations comes with expenses, so Lammy is working on getting a grant to support the project. Her after-school group alone has 23 girls, and she wants to expand on campus as well.

Lammy hopes to work with different groups at MU. The grant she's working on writing with the Wellness Resource Center would involve the Women’s Center, Greek life and the Residence Halls Association.

Lammy already presents to sororities, freshman interest groups and other organizations, but she said she would like to do more. She is going to graduate in a little more than a year, but she wants to continue the project after graduation and get official status for ROSE as an organization at MU.

Her vision for ROSE is, ultimately, to train members to give the presentations and pass the word on about self-esteem in the community.

Rizzo said she sees self-esteem as a way to success.

"If you don’t have self-esteem, you don’t really know that you can do things," she said. "You don’t know if you have the power to dream big and reach your goals. Having that self-esteem lets you know ‘I can do this'."

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