- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Janice Ferebee has looked into the faces of hundreds of teen-age girls who weren't going to be chosen to grace the covers of a nationally known high-gloss magazine.
As a former models editor and assistant fashion editor for Seventeen magazine, she learned a lot by looking at those painful expressions, because behind almost every one was a good, cheerful youngster who didn't need her heart broken that way. Ms. Ferebee knows that beauty is only skin-deep and that there is an ugly side to pretty.
So now, Ms. Ferebee, 44, works with teen-age girls on a deeper level: She conducts workshops and is writing a series of books on teen-age self-awareness for girls. Her first, "Got It Goin' On: An Image Awareness Guide for Young 'Ladies,' " which she self-published in 1996, was adopted by the D.C. public schools as a supplemental text. Her second book, "Got It Goin' On II: Power Tools for Girls," also self-published and scheduled for release this month, is chock-full of hip-hop graphics and informative text.
"It's information I feel girls need in order to grow into happy, healthy and whole young women. These are tools that will help them to improve their quality of life," Ms. Ferebee says.
The easy-to-read paperbacks focus on such topics as self-esteem, peer pressure, individual talent development and style, value systems and an unwavering appreciation for individual uniqueness.
"I learned from that [Seventeen magazine] experience how important it is for girls to feel good about who they are and not what they look like. If you don't feel good about yourself, you will begin to devalue who you are and want to make changes," Ms. Ferebee says.
"That can come in the form of starvation (anorexia or bulimia), body piercing, tattooing. Consequently, it can lead to a life of depression," she says.
That's no way to live, the Northwest resident says.
To counter the torrent of subliminal messages from Madison Avenue targeted at adolescent girls, Ms. Ferebee, an exercise enthusiast, conducts seven-week workshops for girls ages 13 to 16 at the YMCA at 17th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW. It's a program she started as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania while working toward her master's degree in social work.
"It was initially called the Fitness and Fashion With Funk program, where I combined gospel, funk, cardio hip-hop, kick boxing and step aerobics with girls' rap [discussions] and special presentations," Ms. Ferebee says.
"It was a fun and funky way to learn about life. I promoted intellectual, physical and spiritual fitness, and it was a wonderful way for me to give back [to the community] while I was in grad school," she says.
It was also a way for the native New Yorker to combine her passion for fashion and her interest in physical fitness.
In 1998, Ms. Ferebee moved the program from Philadelphia to Washington. At the request of parents and the teen-ministry staff at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Northwest, Ms. Ferebee set up shop and called it the Got It Goin' On Empowerment Program for Girls.
Last year, she partnered with the YMCA and got a space for two seven-week sessions. The next session begins Sept. 16. Although the venue changed, the premise remains the same: "To encourage and empower girls to be healthy and to make good choices in their lives and have some fun, too," Ms. Ferebee says with a smile.
"It's also a wonderful opportunity for mothers and daughters to kind of hang out together," she says.
On Saturdays from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., a group of 25 (that's the class capacity) meets for 45 minutes of exercise and a discussion on the topic of the day.
Exercise sessions are conducted by different fitness instructors who vary in specialty and nationality, to expose the girls to the diverse society in which we live, Ms. Ferebee says, "so they can learn how to interact with all kinds of people. And, they learn that people want to make a positive impact in their lives," Ms. Ferebee says.
"The fitness instructors talk to them about the importance of physical fitness and what they can do to keep their bodies in shape. They're told to set goals, to make exercise a part of their lifestyle now so that 20 years later it's second nature. Research shows that most habits are formed when we're young," Ms. Ferebee says.
After a cool-down period and some water or juice and muffins, candid conversations begin on topics that run the gamut from relationships with authority figures to boys, Ms. Ferebee says.
"I've always felt what makes the program effective and my work with young people, especially girls, is talking with them and not at them being nonjudgmental and listening to what they have to say without cringing," Ms. Ferebee says.
They keep it real.
Fifteen-year-old Athens Harris, a 10th-grader at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest, feels at ease in the company of her peers in the program.
"I like the fact that it's all girls. You're not afraid to talk frankly we're all the same. Janice is really open with us. She doesn't act like an authority figure. She's a friend, like a big sister," Athens says.
"It's the way she interacts with us. When I look at her, I see a nice person who is trying to make a difference in the lives of teens. I see a friend," she says.
Ms. Ferebee stresses the importance of laughter and how it lightens one's load. In her travels, she met a D.C. public school administrator who later conducted a session in laughter therapy for the group.
The guest speaker had worked with the real Patch Adams. In the 1998 movie "Patch Adams," Robin Williams portrayed the doctor who feels laughter can cure whatever ails you.
"The session also dealt with mental fitness and how the stresses that young people are under can lead to depression and suicide," Ms. Ferebee says.
In her new book, Ms. Ferebee introduces her readers to Faith, Love and Hope three teen guardian angels who offer extra guidance.
"Faith is 12 and 1/2 and thinks she knows everything. She's just high-spirited. Hope is 15, and she's experienced freedom and a few too many french fries. And Love is 17; she's mild-mannered and confident," Ms. Ferebee says.
"Faith, Hope and Love will watch over [the girls] and be their guardian angels throughout their lives," she says.
To find out more about the Got It Goin' On Empowerment Program for Girls and Ms. Ferebee's books, check out her Web site, www.janiceferebee.com, or call 202/829-2822.

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