Growing Up Strong
My name is Haylee Aidnik. I work in the booming industry of biotechnology alongside some of the brightest and most determined scientists in the world. I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Physiology and Neuroscience from UC San Diego, a nationally and internationally ranked school that is well known for its contributions to research and development. I have thrived in my twenties beyond what I ever could have imagined, but my story does not begin with success, it begins with fear.
I joined Girls Inc. in a very vulnerable time of my life. I was a new girl, in a new school and a survivor of domestic violence. My childhood was tainted by my father’s alcohol abuse and violence. He abused my family physically, verbally, and financially. My mother, a vision of strength, saved me and my brother from the abuse and brought us to her hometown of San Leandro in Alameda County. I struggled so deeply to love myself and to love the life I lived. Self-confidence was a mere myth and I thought my courage had been long lost until a kind woman with a gentle voice introduced me to Girls Inc. in Alameda County. I started participating in the STARS program at my middle school - a daily hands-on after-school program to empower girls to develop their capabilities through technology literacy, academic enrichment, career exploration, leadership, fitness and team building activities.
Odette could see my pain and my struggle and encouraged me to join the afterschool program. I was afraid of the unknowns and was resistant at first, but after being welcomed with open arms into the program I quickly learned that being strong, smart, and bold was possible for me despite my past and despite everything that had held me back before. I began to have that confidence that never quite could overcome my fear. Odette encouraged my passions and my interests and I found out that I loved science and that I loved problem solving. She provided me with books and websites, gave me special projects and encouraged me to become a leader and to break out of my shell. She eventually told me about a wonderful program called H.E.A.R.T (Helping Everyone Achieve Respect Together) before I moved on to high school. H.E.A.R.T was a peer education program focused on helping teens take responsibility for their own sexual health. Participating in the program would require a lot of confidence and leadership. If she had asked me just two years before I would have quickly said no, but the values and confidence that were instilled in my resonated so strongly that I quickly accepted the offer and graduated into the H.E.A.R.T program in high school.
My entire personality had changed and my outlook on life had improved drastically. I dreamed bigger, and took on leadership roles that I never knew I was capable of! H.E.A.R.T got me involved in women’s health and reproductive rights. I loved that program just as dearly as I loved STARS and I was able to reach out to women who had the same struggles I did. I did it all with H.E.A.R.T, from answering questions about birth control to going to Sacramento to lobby for reproductive rights. I became a mentor with H.E.A.R.T and eventually an intern and suddenly coordinated my own events and training sessions, led my own meetings and helped girls and women of all ages, some of whom reminded me of myself. I no longer had fear, I had a strong desire to become more and to pursue higher education and dedicated myself to be the very best person I could be.
Girls Inc. was there for me when I needed them most. They revolutionized my life and turned me into a leader. They taught me that science was not a boy’s field, and that I could achieve my dreams. Abuse does not define me. My successes, my failures and my dreams define me and I am never done evolving because Girls Inc. helped me become a strong, smart, and bold woman.