Girls Spark Supports Young Women’s Mental Health

Media native Julia Kasper addresses a girls mental health crisis head-on.

According to a 2019 survey, 80% of Pennsylvania’s teen girls don’t see themselves as mentally healthy. One in three has considered suicide, and 36% have experienced some kind of sexual or dating violence. The statistics are powerful—and Julia Kasper recites them with a conviction that shows why the organization she created is a necessity for preteen and teenage girls.

In the spring of 2017, while still a student at Media’s Penncrest High School, Kasper founded Girls Spark to address the mental, emotional, social and physical issues she and her peers were facing on a daily basis. Today, the organization has helped thousands of girls in Pennsylvania and even some surrounding states. Its founder has an ambitious plan to create satellite clubs in the region’s schools and franchise models around the country. “We want to uplift and empower young women,” she says.

Specifically, Kasper wants girls ages 11–19 to feel valued for their “minds, hearts and souls,” rather than their bodies. Each year, the organization holds several events, including the Girls Spark Summit, which brings together a variety of speakers and experts who present to hundreds of attendees. For those unable to attend in person, there are online offerings throughout the year.

“I learned how to cope with anxiety. The overall message was to be confident and to know that you’ll get past it.”
—Girl Spark’s Eliana Magallanez

- Advertisement -

Kasper is certainly not doing this alone. She has two advisory boards, one made up of 20 adult women, and another made up of 25 teens. That mix offers the insight and flexibility needed to address the changing needs of girls on the fly. “We’re finding topics that are pressing and relevant that girls want to hear about,” says Kim Yacoubian, Girls Spark’s executive director and its only paid employee. “We’re matching girls with female business leaders, clinicians, motivational speakers and experts in anxiety, depression and even financial literacy.”

Having graduated this past spring from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in communications and a certificate in digital media, Kasper is a strong, confident young woman with a bright future. That wasn’t the case in 2017, when she was a sophomore at Penncrest. Like most teen girls, she was struggling with a variety of issues and not getting the answers she needed. She turned to her mother, Laura, an entrepreneur who founded and runs Monarch Staffing in Springfield.

“Being a CEO, she told me I needed a plan,” Kasper says. “My friends on the volleyball team and in the choir were behind this, and we held the first meeting at my house. We talked about how it was possible to support teen girls’ mental, social, emotional and economic wellbeing.”

Thanks to help from Ellen Fisher of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, Girls Spark became a nonprofit organization. “Girls were interested in it right away,” Kasper says.

One of those girls is Eliana Magallanez, a rising senior at Haverford High School, who joined Girls Spark three years ago. She’s now president-elect of the organization’s teen board. Lower Merion, Kennett and Upper Darby high schools also host Girls Spark clubs.

- Partner Content -

With a father in the military, Magallanez moved here from Hawaii with her family when she was in grade school. Her mother knew she was having a difficult time at school and encouraged her to join Girls Spark as a freshman. “I really connected with the therapeutic part of it,” says Magallanez. “I learned how to cope with anxiety. The overall message was to be confident and to know that you’ll get past it. It helps to know I’m not alone with the issues I am struggling with. There’s an open discussion all the time.”

Like most teen girls, Kasper was struggling with a variety of issues and not getting the answers she needed. She turned to her mother, Laura. “She told me I needed a plan,” Kasper says.

In her role with Girls Spark, Magallanez helps promote the annual summit, facilitates events and runs the teen board’s meetings. She was thinking about majoring in a STEM field when she goes to college, but her experience with Girls Spark has her leaning toward clinical psychology. “I want to be able to help people,” she says. “I feel a lot more confident and empowered as a girl overall.”

As Kasper begins her professional journey, she’s committed to growing Girls Spark. Nicole Stephenson, an adult board member and executive director of the Main Line Chamber of Commerce’s Society of Professional Women, believes Kasper can develop Girls Spark into a national force. “Julia is the type of person who thinks of others before herself,” Stephenson says. “She’s also driven and ambitious. She never stops putting her heart and soul into Girls Spark.”

Visit girlsspark.org.

Related: ADHD and Adults: Main Line Area Experts on the Rise in Diagnoses

Our Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs Party is July 25!