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From Likes to Self-Love: Meet the Wonder Girls

From Likes to Self-Love: Meet the Wonder Girls

Wonder Girls Strives to Build Confidence and Community, Breaking Teens Free from Social Media’s Compare Game

It’s a feeling more than anything. The recipe includes successful, professional women mentors laying down a lifelong bedrock, filled with dollops of self-belief, spoonfuls of success tools, mixed in with a genuine understanding and love for adolescent girls. And the result yields priceless superpowers: confidence, and strength, along with the crystal-clear vision that anything is possible. 

Wonder Girls is the brainchild of Rockland-based mothers Natalie Maniscalco and Irene Zervoudis. Troubled by the prevailing notion that many girls have low self-esteem, the pair created the after-school program for middle- and high-school girls in December 2020. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the program is on a laser-focused mission to build confidence, leadership, community spirit, and the professional skills to succeed. 

“There is such a need for empowerment of young girls out there that only increased with the onset of the pandemic,” said Maniscalco, a mom to a stepdaughter. “If you follow social media, you will see how prevalent low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, social isolation, and the need to compare to others is.” 

“We wanted to turn that around by teaching them to lift each other up,” she continued, “rather than tear one another down while helping our community and the future generation of women leaders in this country.” 

With locations in New Jersey and New York, Wonder Girls’ 6-12-week workshops feature professional women instructors delivering curricula customized for the girls’ needs and demographics. For an added sense of social responsibility, the program hosts a monthly volunteer day with local organizations.  

Wonder Girls’ annual career expo

The curriculum provides an extensive menu of development and experience. However, what defines its authentic imprint is the journeys their members undertake, transforming to versions of themselves they now proudly view as extraordinary. 

“Your vibe attracts your tribe,” affirms Zervoudis, who is the mother to three girls. “The real heart of the program is the girls themselves and the network of women we bring in, all learning from each other and making it into something girls want to be a part of. The camaraderie and support among the girls is the biggest piece.” 

Maniscalco and Zervoudis are quick to cite several cases of Wonder Girls they have seen experience metamorphoses — one in particular stands out. Grismely Ferreira came to the group two years ago as a high school student. Now, she is flourishing at Rockland Community College’s nursing program, and was recently featured in a television interview on PIX11, brimming with confidence, affability, and honed public speaking skills. An ambassador for Wonder Girls, Ferreira was presented with a scholarship at the program’s March 2023 gala.  

Like the members themselves, the cofounders are in constant growth mode. Looking to the future, the duo seeks to expand its locations while awarding more scholarships and becoming a national entity. The need has only increased, as their website reports: seven out of 10 girls in this country believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way. 

Wonder Girls in unifying shirts

In the meantime, the work remains all about affecting one life at a time. 

“If we can help even one girl, our work has been done. That’s what this life is really about,” said Zervoudis. 

Maniscalco concurred. The pair initially created Wonder Girls with the intention of it being a small venture, but she could not be more pleased with its reception and success. 

“The reality is, we are helping many more girls, and the true heart of the program is seeing the amazing women empower the girls. And then, they’re helping and empowering one another. That’s the real magic.” 

Jennifer Warren is an English teacher and freelance writer who has called the Hudson Valley home for over 40 years. As an avid runner, triathlete, hiker, and all-around outdoor lover, she can’t think of any other place she would rather be than surrounded by mountains, the Hudson River, and all-around incredible beauty.  

Photos by Franklin Liranzo

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