August 2016- – When All Around Pennsauken reporter Frank Sinatra heard that Grace in the Mud’s Summer Program participants reside primarily in Pennsauken, he wanted to learn more about the enrichment experience that captivated the girls’ dreams and aspirations.

One morning during the Program, Frank stopped by to visit GRACE’s headquarters and all the GRACE girls. He learned about our unique educational and inspirational approach and the girls learned about the intriguing career of a journalist. The story below is a result of that morning visit.

By Frank Sinatra, AAP Editor

This summer, eight young girls from Pennsauken and Delair took part in a special two-week program designed to help them to achieve their goals through grace-filled adventures and exploration.

Grace in the Mud provides fully immersive enrichment programs for young girls ages 9, 10 and 11. Now in its second year, the non-profit organization is the brainchild of Donna Romani, a behavior consultant who has volunteered for 20 years in Pennsauken, assisting Saint Cecilia’s Little Angels program.

Grace in the Mud provides fully immersive enrichment programs for young girls ages 9, 10 and 11. The non-profit, now in its second year, has its roots in Pennsauken.

“The actual root of [Grace in the Mud] did start with the girls predominantly from Pennsauken and Delair,” says Romani. “I help Little Angels when they have any behavior problems or families who are struggling with certain situations.”

Throughout her career, Romani has recognized the need to provide young girls on the road to adulthood with the tools they need to meet the challenges of life head on. That’s what Grace in the Mud provides, through uniquely designed programs that promote positive identity formation, character development, and civic responsibility through community service. These experiences are designed to help develop “grit,” which renowned psychologist Angela Duckworth describes as a character trait used to deal with life’s obstacles.

“Grit is made up of passion and perseverance. Yet if you don’t have experiences to explore your passions, then how are we best equipping children, especially girls who are on the new dawn of their bodies changing and their hormones changing so rapidly during this time? The data impels us to look at growing their passions.”

Part of that growing process is a fully immersive, two-week summer program, through which girls gain exposure to unique areas of interest and learn from local experts on interesting topics of choice. The touchstones of Grace in the Mud’s are positively reinforced in the curriculum and every experience. Afterwards, the girls and their families are welcome to meet once each month for dinner, building on the grace-filled process of preparing girls for adulthood. And the girls are responding to the message.

“Before I came to Grace in the Mud, I never used to think that grace mattered,” says Emily K. “Now I think that grace really matters. Every girl and every boy should have grace. Grace is loyalty, it’s having good manners. Grace is a lot of good things.”

“I’m going to have manners. If someone’s being rude to me, I’m not going to say something mean. I’m going to be peaceful and graceful,” adds Amanda C. “I’ll just say something nice. And if I can’t say something nice, I just won’t say anything.”

While the cost of the program averages about $1,500 per child, no family pays a cent to participate. Grace in the Mud relies solely on the generosity of donors to offer this unique program.

“Funding is essential, because we’re a start up. It takes a while to establish grants and a funding base. Providing transportation is also a big hurdle,” explains Romani. “Still, we’re blessed with volunteers and a lot of community support.”

“There aren’t any other programs that are like this. There are a lot of camps that may have activities, but there’s no program that is encompassing everything that Grace in the Mud does,” adds Kimberly Friend, staff member. “We also have all of the data to support the background. We actually have a way to measure the impact, which no other program does. So it really is a unique opportunity for the girls.”

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