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Meet Paige Beenen: Program Director for the Nightingale Project

Life’s awkward years – better known as middle school – are recalled by many as a time preferably to be forgotten. As hormones rage and brace-faced bullies reign supreme, it’s hard for young girls to stay confident, or even look towards the future beyond a day’s pimple or boy-problem. “It’s a vulnerable time,” Paige Beenen ’13 says. “As friend groups change and everyone grows up in lots of ways, [middle school] can be a crossroads for lots of people. It always helps to have another person on your side.”

Beenen is helping middle school girls find those allies through her work as program director for the Nightingale Project. A long-standing student organization on campus, the Nightingale Project matches Northfield middle school girls with Ole women who will serve as their mentors throughout the year. The group’s main purpose according to their mission statement is to: “Make a difference in the lives of our mentees by being a friend, encourager, and role model.”

This week, Beenen and group members, or ‘Nightingales’ as they call themselves, are spending time tabling at the Northfield middle schools to recruit more girls. While Beenen says 137 Ole women expressed interest in being mentors this year, she says it is much harder to find interested middle school girls. “Middle schoolers aren’t as outgoing,” she said. “We have to hunt them down!” Still, Beenen adds, once they sign up, “All middle school girls are excited to do anything on campus with a college student.” Last year, the program boasted 20 mentor and mentee pairs.

Beenen, a nursing major with plans to work as a nurse practitioner one day, is in her second year as program director of the Nightingale Project. This is also her third year as a mentor in the program. She still remembers the first day she met her mentee, Emily, who is now a 7th grader in Northfield. “I think we were both nervous,” Beenen recalls of their initial meeting, when Emily was dropped off at Buntrock Commons. To break the ice, Beenen says she made a sign to hold up with Emily’s name on it – inspired by those often waved at the airport. “I tried to make it kind of fun and funny,” Beenen said. Now, three years later, Beenen says she and Emily are good friends.

Like all the other mentor/mentee pairs in the program, Beenen and Emily meet once a week individually for an hour. Then once a month, they meet with all the other Nightingales as a group. These monthly meetings always consist of a fun activity, Beenen says. From pumpkin carving to sledding to decorating valentines, the girls always do something hands-on and creative.

One highlight from last year, Beenen says, was when the group made tie-fleece blankets for their November event. “We gave them to first responders to give to kids in car accidents or in fires,” Beenen said. “We thought it was cool to tie in the community service aspect into our mentoring too.” Other activities the Nightingales did last year included visiting a senior center to act out the Christmas story and learning a dance routine to “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray. “That was a favorite of the mentees, and I think mentors liked that a lot too,” Beenen said of the routine.

For Beenen, the Nightingale Project is much more than another extra-curricular activity to add to her resume. “It’s been fun to get to know [Emily] over time,” Beenen said. “It seems like other things I’ve done, you meet people and move on, but to have the relationship for three years that grows and become stronger is really meaningful to me. It’s fun to see [that] Emily’s excited to see me. It’s fun to feel like I matter to her too.”

It’s not too late to get involved! For more information or to learn how to join the Nightingale Project, just email: nightingales@stolaf.edu

*Logo credit: courtesy of the Nightingale Project

Founder and executive editor of the St. Olaf chapter of Her Campus, Lucy Casale is a senior English major with women's studies and media studies concentrations at St. Olaf College. A current editorial intern at MSP Communications in Minneapolis, MN, Lucy has interned at WCCO-TV/CBS Minnesota, Marie Claire magazine, and two newspapers. Visit her digital portfolio: lucysdigitalportfolio.weebly.com  
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