View photos from the Vikings Women's Empower Leadership Academy for Girls at the TCO Performance Center.
Young ladies left Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center feeling energized, confident and, in many cases, with new friendships.
The Vikings hosted approximately 80 young women between the ages of 10 and 14 on Oct. 5 for the "Empower Leadership Academy for Girls."
This year featured two, half-day academies (morning and afternoon) to accommodate more attendees without sacrificing the intimate experience. Each group heard from speakers and coaches, including former Golden Gophers basketball coach Pam Borton, who founded Empower in 2014.
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.
"Pam's passion is to empower people in general," said Vikings Director of Women's Initiatives and MVC Head Coach Tami Hedrick. "She always wants to help people be their best self, and this gives her that platform to do that.
"She's so great with young people and knows how to inspire them," Hedrick added. "It's really fun to be a part of it and see it happen."
Hosting the event was a dual effort from the Vikings Women's Initiatives and Youth Marketing; the two departments shared goals of developing young female leaders and promoting healthy, active lifestyles for the next generation of Vikings fans.
While the Minnesota Vikings are a football team at their core, Hedrick emphasized that it also is an impact organization.
"Being able to impact young women [through] all the pillars that Empower represents ties into the principles that are also important within our Vikings organization," Hedrick said.
The young women worked through curriculum that focused on four main areas: confidence, leadership, resilience and well-being. The day involved interactive workshops, journaling prompts, public speaking practice and a physical wellness activity with Vikings Cheerleaders.
The groups also heard from one of two Vikings employees who joined as guest speakers: Vikings Director of Inclusion & Employee Investment Anne Doepner, and Associate Counsel Demeka Fields.
Each shared their respective career journeys and leadership stories before engaging in a Q&A with the group.
"We wanted to remind them that there's lots of opportunities for roles beyond just football players and coaches – and if you want to be one of those, that's awesome too," Hedrick said with a smile. "It was fun to open their eyes to the other possibilities and paths if they someday want to have a career in sports."
Hedrick pointed out that the Vikings promote and host a number of youth-centric events and initiatives throughout the year, and partnering with Empower allows the organization to engage with a unique age range.
She emphasized that young women between 10 and 14 years of age are at a time in their lives where they are most likely to undergo a transition in confidence, academic excitement and physical well-being. It also is a time when young people oftentimes are at risk of feeling more isolated due to the prevalence of social media or other factors.
Hedrick believes it's the ideal age to "try to plant a seed" and provide young women with the tools to navigate what can sometimes be a difficult life stage.
"We try to interject at that age and build their confidence, help them learn how to use stress-management skills, and how to come back from tough situations or have hard personal conversations," Hedrick said.
As she reflected on another year of the Empower Leadership Academy for Girls, Hedrick said her favorite thing each time is witnessing the transformations that can take place even over a few hours.
"They're getting up in front of the room, they're speaking and engaging, they're doing journaling that really is a deep-dive," said Hedrick. "And the friendships that they make [are special and often diverse]. They're meeting new people and connecting with them by the end of the day."