San Francisco nonprofit, Girls Leading Girls, empowers young women through soccer

SAN FRANCISCO -- ABC Owned Television Stations and ABC's Localish present 50 inspiring stories from around the country for Fifty/50, as part of The Walt Disney Company's monumental initiative highlighting the 50th anniversary of the passing of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funding, and gave women the equal opportunity to play. This story was originally published in November 2020.

Created in the San Francisco Bay Area, Girls Leading Girls is the first of its kind. It's a soccer program that focuses on teaching girls life and soccer skills through healthy competition.

In everything that Girls Leading Girls does, they strive to promote three core values of empowerment, collaboration and skill-building through the game of soccer.

"My favorite part of the organization is that it's a team, from the soccer team to the staff," trainer and coach Samantha Larson said. "Within that team, we're not only learning about the skills, technical and tactical pieces of the game, but the technical and tactical pieces of life."

"What I love about soccer is that it teaches so many skills that are applicable on and off the field," Girls Leading Girls Managing Director Megan Arabian said. "It teaches you how to share, how to socialize with your peers, how to communicate and how to have confidence in yourself."

Girls Leading Girls focuses on empowering girls to be leaders within their communities, while encouraging girls from different socioeconomic backgrounds to work together.

The organization creates a community of bright young women who have gone on to find success in what they choose to do.

"Girls Leading Girls has so many amazing women coaches that have taught me so many things," Brianna Berlanga said. "They all make a huge impact to every girl here. As a person who struggles with anxiety, I tend to become more nervous and scared, and they have taught me to be more confident in myself."

"I've never felt so accepted on a team," Nora Reed said. "It really helps you find other people that you can be yourself around and they'll help you find out who you want to be inside and outside of soccer."

"It has taught me a lot of lessons, including that I should be proud to be a girl," Sophie Sahia said. "It's a really positive community and it teaches you how to be a leader. I've learned a lot of my leadership skills from Girls Leading Girls."

After serving in the Peace Corps and seeing how soccer can make an impact on the lives of women, a lightbulb went off for founder Brianna Russell.

From there, Girls Leading Girls was born.

"I have not seen something else that does all the things that we do," said Brianna Russell, CEO of Girls Leading Girls, a grantee program of the Women's Sports Foundation and espnW Sports 4 Life initiative. "There's different organizations that are just a club program, or just an after school program, but there are not a lot of organizations that have all women running and leading. One of the reasons why soccer is the vehicle is because it's a team sport and one of the only sports that aren't altered for women. It teaches us that we can be competitive in a healthy way by lifting each other up."

Girls Leading Girls hopes that they will fortify girls' life skills through the lessons of sports and friendly competition.

For more information, visit the Girls Leading Girls website by clicking here.