AZ Girl Power

Licensed Master Social Worker, Jaime Smilovici lead Mia Rumore, Alyla Narayanappa, and Mila Gilbertson during empowerment an exercise/game. The girls described the emotion presented on the card and a memory of the emotion. (Cassandra Tomei/Contibutor)

Girls in Cave Creek and Carefree have been learning how to become their best selves, thanks to the guidance of Jaime Smilovici.

A passionate licensed master social worker, Smilovici leads AZ Girl Power, teaching second- to eighth-grade girls the fundamentals of self-empowerment.

It launched in June with Empowered Girls, a series of four classes aiming to enhance the girls’ self-esteem and develop a more positive outlook on their everyday lives.

“I see what girls have been going through as far as issues with friends, social media, depression, anxiety,” Smilovici said.

“I just want them to learn these tools young and have tools in their toolbox to cope and problem solve, because they do face a lot of issues in our current world.”

An Arizona native, Smilovici earned her bachelor’s in sociology at the UA and her master’s in social work at ASU. She has 20 years of experience working at schools in Phoenix, Glendale and Cave Creek, concentrating on kindergarten through eighth-grade students of diverse backgrounds.

She is interested in boosting girls’ self-esteem because she sees herself in them. She was unassertive as a young girl.

She said learning such social and emotional skills would have allowed her to stand up for herself in elementary and middle school.

“I’m super pumped, my heart is full, I’m super inspired. This is just my absolute passion,” Smilovici said.

“I only have teenage boys at home, so I didn’t raise daughters. But I feel like I can absolutely relate to them — just some of the things that I went through as a child and even in college.”

The empowerment groups’ lessons highlight a different topic, such as assertiveness, mindfulness, coping skills, problem-solving strategies and friendship scenarios and dilemmas. After icebreakers, they are encouraged to participate in games, conversation prompts and anonymous questions. 

In a few short weeks, girls have shown social and emotional growth, Smilovici said.

 They have been exhibiting a willingness to try new things, talking more with one another and initiating playdates. Smilovici has also perceived a greater sense of community among the girls’ mothers.

Mia Rumore, 8, said she has become more confident, thanks to the classes. She enjoys the weekly program because Smilovici is “nice” and “fun.”

“I’ve gotten amazing feedback from the parents and the girls,” Smilovici said. “They’re having so much fun while learning.”

Her inbox has been full of thank-you messages from parents. They share the girls’ love of the group and their new friends. As parents, they understand how important it is for their daughters to learn self-esteem at a young age.

“It’s been overwhelmingly awesome,” she said.

Despite its youth, the program has caught the community’s attention. Parents, groups and organizations, including Girl Scout troops, girls sports teams and a dance company, have expressed an interest in the program.

Smilovici has been asked to expand to other ages, as well.

Per parent request, she is considering offering drop-in sessions for high school-age girls so they can have a safe space to talk about their lives.

“I do want to think about that, because you can get into a lot of really more serious issues, some of the issues being grief and death and families, and also there are a lot of issues going on with dating,” she said.

She added she wants to concentrate on individual and group coping skills rather than therapy.

Smilovici is working on reaching girls across the globe, partnering with Positive Network Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to providing mentoring programs and support services for Arizona children facing challenges.

Together, they will film a TV program for YouTube featuring Smilovici and two other girls as superheroes, sharing girl power messages and words of wisdom.

As of now, she’s focusing on extending her empowerment groups to Phoenix and Scottsdale starting in August.

She will be hosting workshops for girls second and third grades; fourth to sixth grades; and seventh and eighth grades.

In addition, special Girl Scout troop workshops can be scheduled.

A back-to-school group will be hosted by Muse Pilates, owned by Smilovici’s cousin, Nina Smith. A two-hour workshop for fourth to sixth graders, it will emphasize caring for their bodies and feeling good, highlighting health and nutrition.

The girls will participate in a 15-minute Pilates session led by Smith before moving on to Smilovici’s social and emotional activities. They can discuss any back-to-school anxieties.

“I think if they start early and practice early, they’re going to be in really good shape for when they have some challenges as adolescents or young adults,” Smilovici said.

Girls empowerment groups are held at Mason Jar Boutique, 29455 N. Cave Creek Road. Moms receive 20% off in-store merchandise during their daughters’ sessions.

AZ Girl Power