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Vikings Host 1st 'Empower' Leadership Academy for Girls

Posted Jun 10, 2017

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Young ladies had the opportunity to learn about leadership from some of the best in the business earlier this month at the Vikings first “Empower Leadership Academy for Girls.”

A group of 43 went through workshops and wellness activities at Winter Park and heard from speakers, including former Golden Gophers basketball coach Pam Borton, who founded Empower in 2014. Hosting the event was a dual effort from the Vikings Women’s Initiatives and Youth Marketing with shared goals of developing young female leaders and promoting healthy, active lifestyles for the next generation of Vikings fans.

Borton started the youth off with an interactive session titled “Cultivating the Leader that Lies Within,” during which she emphasized how to think positively about oneself and understanding one’s strengths and values.

“We’re going to learn to leverage our strengths and leverage those things to build confidence – to build our self-esteem, because this is who we are,” Borton told the group.

During her workshop, Borton incorporated team-building activities and exercises in which each girl wrote down a list of attributes she appreciated about herself and identified core values that she held.

Borton also taught the importance of learning public speaking skills at a young age and invited participants to share with the group.

Following Borton’s workshop, 12-year-old Kaleah Rose from Saint Paul Park said that she was grateful for a chance to attend the Empower event.

“My favorite part was our first session, talking about leadership and why we value ourselves,” Kaleah said. “It gives everybody self-confidence, and it shows what you like about who you are.”

Another young person who shared, 11-year-old Victoria Humphrey, said that her strengths are in academics and in being a good friend to others.

“I’ve learned lots about myself, including the core values that I have,” Victoria said while exploring the locker room. “I didn’t know that I had so much to share with the community.”

Borton, the winningest coach in University of Minnesota women’s basketball history, now works as an ICF Senior Executive Coach and brings a unique experience to her professional clients in helping them reach the next level of corporate leadership.

In spending the day with fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth-graders, however, Borton said she really didn’t need to adjust the theme of her message too much.

“I think the kids, young girls, are dealing with the same things as maybe adult women and people in general,” Borton said. “We all have the same challenges with confidence, with building resilience and just supporting others. And developing leadership skills across the board is huge, whether you’re young or you’re a veteran.

“I’ve coached young women my whole life,” Borton later added. “Just knowing the challenges that they have at this age, you want them to be in a better place when they’re 18 to 22 years old. That they have more confidence, that they do have more resilience, that they do have less negative self-talk. That they’re able to be further along when they become high school-, college- and adult-aged women.”

Midway through the day’s activities, the young ladies were given a surprise visit by Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren.

Warren stopped by Winter Park to welcome the attendees on behalf of the Vikings organization and deliver a message.

“I just want to share with you how important young women, all women, are to our organization. They play integral roles here at the Vikings,” Warren said. “I just want to encourage you all to dream big, to achieve and work hard, to focus on your goals and believe that you can and that you are very special.”

Warren shared with the group that he had the privilege of working for the Rams under Georgia Frontiere, who was the first female owner in NFL history. He credited much of his experience and perspective to his mother, two sisters and his time learning from Frontiere.

“I considered that – and still consider it to this day – a true honor and privilege,” Warren said. “You all have the potential, you have the ability, to be an owner in the NFL.

“We want to tell you how much we love and appreciate you,” he continued. “And the Vikings will always have your back and do what we can to help you.”

Tami Hedrick, Director of Women’s Initiatives and Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders head coach, echoed Warren’s sentiments.

“This organization understands the importance of building up young women, including them, connecting with them and engaging with them as a team. Showing them opportunities that they might have for the future, and helping them to dream big,” Hedrick said.

Hedrick feels especially passionate about supporting young girls as a mother herself.

“I’m so blessed to be able to be a mom and to have kids … but you know the saying: ‘It takes a village,’ ” Hedrick said. “We at the Vikings get to be a leader in part of that village [and do our part to help] grow these kids that are in our community and see them develop.”

The young ladies were given a tour of the Vikings locker room and went through football drills and flexibility and circuit training with former Vikings cornerback Benny Sapp and the Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders, respectively.

In the afternoon, leadership sessions included “Building Self-Confidence” with Hedrick, “My Vision and Goal Setting” with Molly Wengler and “Mindfullness: Social and Emotional Learning” with Shelly Boyum-Breen, a former athlete and coach who is now a children’s book author.

Hedrick said she felt strongly about sharing a message of confidence with the girls.

“It may just be me, but I feel that we all battle that internal, negative voice at times, for different reasons,” Hedrick said. “For somebody to not be able to reach their full potential because they’re listening to that voice and they’re not being confident or feeling confident, that breaks my heart.”

Hedrick said the goal of Saturday’s Empower Leadership Academy was to help the participants leave feeling better equipped to navigate through some of those difficult challenges.

“They get to really invest in themselves, and we get to invest in them,” Hedrick said.

Lexi Berkness, 10, was excited about new friends that she made during the day and said that the day helped encourage her to tackle her fear of heights.

“I love this place,” she said with a smile.

Throughout the day, Borton enjoyed watching all the young ladies interact, learn new leadership skills and interact well with each other and with the group.

Borton said the inaugural Empower Leadership Academy was a success.

“Today has been transformational,” Borton said. “It’s as inspiring for us as adults as it is for the attendees.”