Chicas For Change

Cora Palomar-Nelson, Emma Hair, and Chloe Whalen are the leaders of Chicas for Change, an extracurricular club where members seek to empower women.

A women’s empowerment club at Sandwich High School was founded last year by a student who felt that some of the COVID-19 protocols in place at the school were putting some students in an awkward situation.

Cora Palomar-Nelson, a senior and club president, said that when school reopened in the fall of 2020, students were required to call down to the nurse’s office to explain why they needed to visit. This led to some girls having to broadcast to their classmates that they were on their periods and needed to get a feminine sanitary pad or a tampon.

These situations were the impetus for Cora to found Chicas for Change, an effort for which she received support from the administration.

She said that in many ways, the pandemic left her feeing powerless, unable to make much of a difference. However, founding Chicas for Change gave her that power back.

Through the club, Cora affixed pencil cases to bathroom stalls which were then filled with feminine hygiene products. A note on the bag asked for donations of any extra supplies to “pay it forward.”

Having access to products without having to go to the nurse’s office meant that students who find that they are unprepared for their period can handle that situation more discreetly.

While the club started as a way to mitigate that issue, it has since grown as a way to empower young women in the school community.

Meetings took place largely online last year and topics of conversation have ranged from body positivity to women in STEM fields to domestic violence.

Those topics can sometimes be difficult to discuss, especially when it comes to abusive relationships, Cora said. However, the members of the club left that discussion with resources and the knowledge of what to do if they ever found themselves in a bad situation.

”It’s important to know when you’re in trouble,” she said.

Junior Chloe Whalen, who is tasked with running the club’s social media accounts, said that it is all about girls supporting girls.

She said that most girls have insecurities, which can lead to bullying. The club addresses that and is a place to support one another instead.

”It’s really uplifting,” she said.

One of the ways that the club has supported the women in school has been to make posters to celebrate the female athletes who play for the school’s teams.

Cora said that female athletes often do not get the same recognition as their male counterparts. The club also makes plans to attend the school’s women’s sporting events as a group as a way to further show their support.

Emma Hair, a senior and club vice president, said that the discussions they have about important women in history have helped students see themselves represented.

”It’s important to see yourself in these women,” she said. “Maybe that will be me.”

Cora said that the club discusses women from all backgrounds, and takes an inclusive approach called intersectional feminism. Topics of race, gender and sexual identity and class come into play, as well.

She said that Sandwich may not be incredibly diverse, but many of the students will not always stay in Sandwich. Including diversity in their discussions will prepare them for life after Sandwich, Cora said.

Another aspect of the club is mentoring, with older students paired off with younger members.

Emma has taken on the leadership of the mentoring program, saying that she wishes she had been able to have a mentor when she was younger.

”There are a number of universal experiences that women have in high school,” she said. “It can feel excluding when you’re not comfortable with yourself or your bodily functions.”

Having a “big sister” mentor can make those experiences less daunting.

Chloe said that knowing that she had someone to say hello to in the hallways was helpful.

Moving forward, the club is looking to reach out to students in younger grades, such as at the Oak Ridge and Forestdale schools. The idea is to start empowering girls when they are young, especially because the “mean girl” culture can start so young.

”It feels really impactful to help younger people, so they don’t have to go through what we did,” Emma said.

When the club started last year, it had 20 members. This year, it is closer to having 60 members.

The club is open to all students and its membership includes young men as well as students who identify as non-binary. The students in the club range from 7th through 12th grade.

”When I started this last year, I didn’t know it would grow so fast,” Cora said.

The club has also gotten the attention of the Sandwich Women’s Club, which made a sizeable donation of feminine hygiene products to help the club keep the bathrooms stocked.

Cora said that donations of pads and tampons are always accepted as the stock they have is frequently depleted. She asked that anyone wanting to donate contact her at her school email address: cpalomarnelson2022@sandwich.k12.ma.us.

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