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Community Matters

An Interview with the Mentor: Spotlight on Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta with Leigh Grant-Simms

September 1st, 2015

By Dawn Booth

With a mission to teach, inspire and motivate young girls to be strong, smart and bold; the local social profit organization - Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta - has been voicing and instilling these terms into thousands of females for over a decade.

Originally starting out as the Big Sisters of Fort McMurray in 1979, the organization morphed into Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta in 2004. And by providing programs to girls aged six to 18 years old, Girls Inc. is able to encourage young girls to break free from gender stereotypes and create social change.

Maintaining a safe place for girls to speak openly and build confidence is something Leigh Grant-Simms, program director of Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta, believes in. Grant-Simms has been helping girls develop into mature, responsible, happy young women in her position at Girls Inc. for the past four years.

Even though she hadn’t planned to pursue a career in the social profit sector, she shares how the path found her and gives credit to her mentor, Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta Executive Director Ann Dort-MacLean.

“It found me. Well, Ann found me and she has been my greatest mentor, and I thank her often,” Grant-Simms shared. “This career is one of the last things I expected to do.”

Grant-Simms is a mentor and takes the spotlight for this issue of Fort McMurray's Child Magazine to answer questions on the programs at Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta and how the programs throughout the year are helping our youth:      

How do the programs at Girls Inc. benefit the children of the Fort McMurray community?

Leigh Grant-Simms: The programs benefit young women in our community in many intrinsic ways.   Within our programs, there is always an element of open discussions that our mentors and program staff facilitate. These discussions are facilitated without judgment and consciously with the purpose of all participants learning for each other. The programs are designed to equip girls with the knowledge and skills needed to create social change, be proud of who they are, and be confident in their own skin. 

How does Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta plan the programs each year?

Leigh Grant-Simms: Each year, we plan our programs around community needs, and community invitations. The majority of our programs are facilitated in school, during class time. Media Smarts© and Friendly PEERsuasion© fit directly into the Alberta Education Curriculum for Health and Life Skills.

We take into consideration underlying issues within group dynamics. And if the school administration feels it is necessary, we may customise the program to the student needs. No programs are alike and each group is unique depending on the dynamic of the girls.

The past year, we took on a class that had concerns with bullying among the girls. At the time, we were facilitating a Media Literacy class, so we incorporated discussions about bullying and examples of positive friendship within media, and how it should be in real life.

Tell me more about how you spend your time preparing the organization, as the program director.

Leigh Grant-Simms: Thankfully Girls Inc® national has amazing and well-prepared programs. So, we don’t have to arrange a lot of what we are going to do in sessions. But we have to make adaptations for Canadian statistics, and our unique community of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

What’s the cost to take part and how is it implemented into the programming?

Leigh Grant-Simms: Our programs are free, except for our summer camps. Our funding agreements range from municipal grants to industry funding, foundations and our successful fundraising activities. We are also a Fort McMurray United Way funded agency. This range of grants enables us to make the greatest impact on girls in our community. Our funding ensures that we can affect change in as many young women, as possible.

What is the most rewarding feedback you have heard from the participants?

Leigh Grant-Simms: The overarching theme is that girls are happy to speak open and honestly in a “girls-only” environment. It makes me happy that they are willing to share their thoughts and stories with me privately or in our group setting. In our substance abuse prevention program (Friendly PEERsuasion), one of our participants really took our discussion on the effects of smoking and how it yellows the teeth, damages the lungs etc., to heart.

This young girl made it her mission to have her mother quit smoking and every day she went home and shared the facts she learned in each session. In a parent interview, after the program, her mother told us that her daughter had managed to get her to quit smoking. The young girl became very persuasive. She had facts to back up her convictions. That young girl learned how to be an effective change maker, in her life and community.

What are some life skills Fort McMurray youth gain from taking part?

Leigh Grant-Simms: Girls in the program are inspired to be strong, smart and bold. To live healthy and physical lives, navigate media messages, and develop an interest in science, math and technology. They learn how to say “NO” to what they do not want and be comfortable with their decisions. We do role playing in Friendly PEERsuasion, on how to say no to a friend and maintain their positive relationship and let go of the negative ones.

Why is getting girls involved the programs at Girls Inc. important to you?

Leigh Grant-Simms: Girls can be what they can’t see. It is important for all girls to have an outlet for their questions and misconceptions of the world, and when there are positive people for girls to turn to the world is a better place. The S.M.A.R.T program is one of those programs that is highly important, not only to get girls into STEM careers and education (Science, Technology, and Engineering & Math), but also to allow them to interact with women from different walks of life.   

How do you encourage youth to continue taking part, year after year?

Leigh Grant-Simms: They naturally seem to transitions through programs. We have a large alumni base. It’s great to see many of them, year after year. We have transitioned almost a whole generation from middle school to high school graduation.

What can participants look forward to in the future at Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta?

Leigh Grant-Simms: Our fall programs are listed in the following:

Girls Inc.® Operation S.M.A.R.T.™ with BrainSTEM Alliance - Ages 8-14 are invited to register.

·         September 12to November 7, 2015 - The S.M.A.R.T will begin for the 3rd year. Eight weeks of engineering with Girls Inc. and Brain STEM Alliance.   

·         Girls develop enthusiasm for skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Through hands-on activities; girls explore, ask questions, persist, and solve problems. By interacting with some amazing female engineer’s pursuing STEM careers, girls come to view these careers as exciting and realistic options for themselves.  

Girls Inc.® Staying Strong Mentoring program

(Further times and dates are listed

·         The mission of the program is to teach, inspire, motivate and empower girls between the ages of 8 -13 with young adult mentors in our community. Girls Inc. Staying Strong is a perfect opportunity for young girls to grow, build new friendships, gain leadership skills, and increase confidence.


To learn more about Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta or to register your daughter in an upcoming program, visit, call 780-790-9236 or email Leigh Grant-Simms at  

Each issue, Dawn Booth of Media Booth talks with the pros who are in-the-know with child-focused local community programs. If you’d like your organization or program featured in an upcoming issue of Fort McMurray's Child Magazine or would like to share a suggestion, contact Dawn at

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