FARGO — A local nonprofit that has been helping young girls develop confidence and leadership skills for nearly 10 years is now taking direct aim at the self-esteem crisis many adolescent girls face. Research indicates that by the age of 8, girls reach their peak self-esteem level, which plummets just four years later.

BIO Girls, which was created in 2013, offers a 12-session program that includes life-skill lessons, mentorship and noncompetitive physical activity for girls in grades 2 through 6. It was created in Fargo in 2013 but has since expanded to more than 50 locations throughout North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin with approximately 2,000 participants each year.

Last month, the organization announced at its annual gala its strategic plan to impact 1 in 6 North Dakota girls annually by the year 2025; currently, the program impacts 1 in 25 girls.

“Girls with high self-esteem not only avoid destructive behaviors, but they also flourish throughout their adolescent years and beyond," said BIO Girls Executive Director Missy Heilman. "They perform better academically, form healthier relationships, make value-driven decisions, avoid risky behaviors and do not fear failure. This is why BIO Girls exists.”

The annual event raised $210,000 to help the organization reach its goals, including an anonymous $50,000 match from an audience member that night.

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BIO Girls programming is evidence based and research proven, with 7 in 10 participants reporting an increase in self-esteem after participating in the program.

BIO Girls programming is made available through volunteers; to get involved or learn more about the organization, visit biogirls.org/get-involved.