Becoming a Brave Girl

Giving girls support and space for healthy creative expression


In my journey from childhood to adulthood I wrestled with so many of the questions that Brave Girl participants bring into our sessions. Interestingly enough, there are moments when I still feel at a loss. The influence of my family on my growth and development was deep. In adulthood, I realize that sometimes, even though I didn’t like all of our weird family quirks, I miss those precious moments. But the good news is that I was so immersed in the love and mentorship of my family that the seeds of goodness they planted in me are sprouting and blossoming today as my ability to sow seeds of inspiration in my life.

In a snapshot, my goal as a Seeds Project Fellow is to help develop a youth ministry model to send girls into the world with the ability to regulate, self-adjust, and stay grounded as young adults with a moral compass oriented by healthy faith and family formation. I try to achieve this through my non-profit called Brave Girl International where girls and young women learn to embrace their unique strengths to lead positive change in the world around them. This mission came from painful experiences in my own life.

Entering darkness

From moments of rejection and lack of belonging, manipulation rather than guidance, envy over admiration, and shame instead of honor, I began to turn from the light I was raised to know and love. Although I grew up with role models that expected me to do the right thing, to have integrity and do what I said I would do, there was a point in my young adult life where I began to make choices in my life based on convenience and status instead. Unfortunately, at a certain point, this kind of lifestyle began weighing on me heavily until I burned out. While on a quest to look the best, achieve the most, and earn the greatest wage, I realized the hyper-achieving perfectionist I became was just a scared version of myself wearing masks and playing games to hide my authentic self. Some people saw the real me, but I believe the goal subconsciously was to keep people from knowing the real me out of the fear of rejection.

As I entered my own dark night of the soul, I began to ask difficult questions of myself. I decided to rid my life of habits, people, and places that stirred within me feelings of disgust, overwhelm, shame, and anger. During this transformational time in my own life, I met other women my age going through similar experiences. All of us were confused and had extraordinary bouts of sadness and rage. I wondered why my inner world was so lonely, secluded, and anger-ridden. How could a new generation of girls be raised surrounded by a support system with elevated standards for self as well as space for healthy expression to navigate moments of hurt? The pain during lived experiences of misalignment between family culture, faith practices, and societal norms is simply maddening.

Developing direction 

Through the development of my personal business, I designed mentorship models for women centered in three phases of development: selfhood for self-leadership in day-to-day life, sisterhood for healthy relationships with other women, and leaderhood for skills to lead families, communities, or organizations. This work began shifting to a younger generation when I had mothers and their middle school girls engage in virtual family-based mentorships reflecting what I offered adult women in organizational leadership.

Collectively, we called the experiment Brave Girl Circle. My goal was to model the sessions after restorative healing circles and contemplative healing practices from prior training that was life changing for me. Each session offered enormous lessons in convening girls and their mothers to engage in deep inner work to increase emotional awareness, personal resilience, and spiritual maturity. After one season of Circle, I thought about walking away from it. But then, feedback started coming from the families regarding the new relationships being built within the group, not to mention the positive insights mothers and daughters were having about themselves and with one another at home. 

Notebook from a brave girl workshop

At the same time, I was meeting more and more teen girls and young women struggling to cope and overcome many of the same things I battled in my own life. From my personal life, I knew that overcontrol, perfectionism, rapid-paced growth, and inflexibility would erode the Brave Girl model. It had to grow differently, more organically. Remember that I had mentioned the releasing of habits, people, and places? Well, along the way, I wasn’t replacing the negative in my life with positive. I found myself in a very empty place. Luckily, this meant I had cleared my life as a blank canvas. This moment was my chance to rewrite my story through the nurturing development of Brave Girl International.

Trying again … with God

I knew I couldn’t stop. I had no idea what Brave Girl would become, but I took the leap and founded the organization. One step at a time I began developing the framework and structure. Anytime I tried forcing a vision, God reminded me He had other plans. Brave Girl is an adventure teaching us to release control, listen deeply, and trust God’s plans fervently.

My first step? To reclaim my roots and reground myself in much of what I had turned my back on in young adulthood. Each day when I wake up, I aim for each choice I make to be reflective of the best aspects of my family heritage and my faith formation. I develop Brave Girl as a reflection of me, but also as a vision of who I want to become. She stands for inclusion, healthy boundaries, compassion, justice, truth, mercy, and grace. Her capacity for understanding and compassion is enormous. When I feel afraid, I stand tall and embrace Brave Girl as she is also designed in the image of God, reflective of inspirational scripture and faith lessons.

From the special teachers in my life, I choose to practice God’s will by:

  • Gathering and hosting graciously like my grandmothers.
  • Focusing and persisting to build a legacy modeled by my grandfathers.
  • Living with courage and passion, patience and consistency lived by my parents.
  • Dreaming new experiences with creativity and imagination like my brother.
  • Honoring my roots and heritage like my faith family.
  • Bolstering my dreams with encouragement from my sisterhood.
  • Respectfully committing, whole-heartedly to love alongside my dear husband.

Brave Girl is centered around healthy, creative self-expression. Through different exercises, participants are invited into a sacred space that is held for them to show up authentically and learn balance. Balance between boundaries and relationship building, strength and vulnerability, and honoring personal values and being open-minded. Ultimately, we explore the gaps between who we believe we are and who we have been raised to be as well as what culture expects of us. It is not very often that we experience consistency in the messaging and narratives of the various elements that guide us during our informative years. Girls are told to be strong and powerful, yet to be patient and not be too “manly”. Girls hear messages about embracing natural beauty, but are inundated with falsified beauty in the media. Girls are told to be sociable and make friends, but how is that possible without fitting into one group’s norms or another?

Convening Brave Girls

The song “Crowded Table” by The Highwomen embodies the experience I wish for girls and women as they engage with Brave Girl. It is the same feeling that I have when I close my eyes and reflect on precious moments of my youth. These were moments of commitment, loyalty, integrity, faith, and togetherness. It can be easy to fixate on what’s wrong and difficult in life. But part of my journey to Brave Girl has been learning to acknowledge the injustices and frustrations of life and then letting go of the anger to move into actionable love and change through the best of what our world has to offer through the grace of God.

Two brave girl participants engaged in an activity

Where is Brave Girl today? She offers three key programs centered on selfhood, sisterhood, and leaderhood for girls and young women.

Brave Girl Circle is a bonding and self-development program for mothers and daughters to practice healthy-expression and spiritual grounding as a family unit.

Brave Girl Bloom is entrepreneurship education for teen girls and young women to start a business or to bring an idea to life as a community project.

Brave Girl Farm is a leadership retreat model centered in the exploration and connection of skills required to farm to a participant’s leadership responsibilities in daily life.

Inviting you

After several years of prototyping and iteration, each Brave Girl program has a foundation. Now, I invite you. Pray diligently and embrace the brave heart God has given you. Stay in touch with Brave Girl to learn more about exciting new projects like The Heart of a Brave Girl. Together with 20 mother-daughter pairs, we are working to publish an anthology of 20 stories of the impact of faith and family on the life journey of brave girls. We are actively seeking participants as well as individuals to help sponsor this project.

Overall, Brave Girl offers unique experiences in youth self-leadership, mother-daughter bonding, sisterhood connections, and personal grounding. Brave Girl is a social innovation club, designing and implementing new solutions to improve the welfare and wellbeing of young women. In rural communities especially, change can be difficult and young women struggle being themselves. Our programs through Brave Girl are changing that paradigm. Brave Girl isn’t a traditional nonprofit and we would love for you to join us as a member or contributor.

  • Samantha Louise Nelson

    Samantha Louise is a leadership cultivator and the founder of Brave Girl International guiding girls and young women to become natural born leaders. She is a beginning farmer, an author, a Minnesota Teacher of the Year, and holds a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership with a unique approach to leadership and learning through hands-on experiences that develop selfhood for self-leadership, sisterhood for healthy relationships, and leaderhood to inspire change in the world around us. Brave Girl was born out of the dire need to prevent cycles of manipulation and trauma; ultimately, to help girls connect to their true essence, develop healthy relationships, and center themselves within functional belief systems. From a farm in rural Minnesota, Samantha is a small-town girl with a world-wide vision to transform leadership development and personal empowerment for next generation female leaders from every corner of the globe.

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