For Rachel McGirt, the importance of health is a very personal one. She struggled with her own health, specifically her weight, from sixth grade through her junior year of high school.
“I had self esteem issues, validation issues, I could never really cope with the fact I was heavier and taller than everyone else.” Rachel said she used unhealthy coping methods, including overeating, and had a negative body image.
After her sophomore year of high school she lost 50 pounds in a healthy way, diet and exercise, and that change drives her passion for the nonprofit she founded, Healthy Girls Save the World (HGSW).
Now a 20-year-old UNC junior studying political science with a minor in African American studies, Rachel strongly believes in creating a better community and a better self. Her way to accomplish this is through the nonprofit that she and her 24-year-old sister Camille McGirt founded.
“She had interned at the White House and had interned with very driven people. She came home with the idea of bettering the community with health,” Rachel said with a smile. In 2011, HGSW began.
HGSW’s goal is to show young girls how to have healthy minds, bodies and relationships, three pillars its volunteers teach middle school girls at events on UNC’s campus throughout the year. Rachel is actively involved not only as a founder but as a lead counselor for the UNC HGSW Chapter.
Reena Gupta, UNC HGSW chapter president, works closely with Rachel as her friend and colleague. “Rachel is so energetic and lively that she makes working together fun. Her compassion shines through all that she does,” Reena commented.
“When I got healthy, I learned being healthy is not what you look like, it’s not about what the world is telling you to be, it’s about being who you are,” she said.
By getting and staying healthy, Rachel learned to love herself. A year later, when she founded HGSW, she saw the ability the organization had to change girls’ lives.
For Rachel, this message, one of health, is an extremely important one to share in the South, because the region has extremely high rates of obesity in youth. Data from the National Survey of Chidren’s Health shows that about 20% of children in southern states are obese.
She hopes the message will spread through the South, and then the message will expand throughout the country within the next 10 years.
“Working with my younger sister has been an incredible experience. Rachel and I complement each other so well – in the areas where I lack she’s super confident and capable, and vice versa,” says Camille, the other half to the dynamic duo.
The first event HGSW held was in a multipurpose room in the downtown Durham library on 11 August, 2011. It was hard for Rachel and Camille to see their program ever being housed at a resource-rich place such as UNC.
When Camille transferred to UNC in the fall of 2011, the sisters realized the university-style club setup was perfect for the nonprofit. They recruited student volunteers for the majority of their initial events. A year later, in the fall of 2012, the Campus Y CUBE took them on as a partner.
With the connection to UNC comes the hope that HGSW will spread to other universities in North Carolina, the South, the country, and maybe even across the globe.
“It’s Healthy Girls Save the World. It has global goals. It’s a program for everybody. I want everybody to know about it. Then we really can save the world,” Rachel said.
Beyond being a co-founder of the organization, Rachel is on the UNC Women’s Varsity Rowing Team and in the Adam’s Apprenticeship Program. Like any other student she finds it hard to balance commitments.
What helps Rachel manage her time is her trusty planner and others helping to hold her accountable. “If I don’t write it in my planner, I will forget it. I almost forgot this interview,” she says laughing.
As a student athlete, her schedule is built to make sure that she has enough time for practice and schoolwork. The hardest part is finding enough time to rest.
That’s where her “healthy girls,” come into play. “I think about the example I am setting for my healthy girls,” she said. “That’s how I ultimately hold myself accountable.”
Even with all she had going on, Rachel didn’t hesitate at the chance to join something that could better herself, even more. Rachel applied for the inaugural Adam’s Apprenticeship Program through the Kenan-Flager Business School. She was one of ten undergraduate candidates chosen in November 2014.
The program gives participants the opportunity to receive mentorship from various entrepreneurs who previously attended UNC and Rachel said she’s already learning more about how to run a nonprofit.
“I see it already opening doors for HGSW. People want to help. I really see this program as a blessing,” Rachel said.
She may have been intimidated by the program’s description at first, but when she went in the interview room and spoke on what she was passionate about, she felt like she had already won. The acceptance letter was just confirmation.
As close friend Savannah Peck says, Rachel brings energy to everything she does. “I think Rachel is the type of person that lights up the room immediately, she never fails to brighten my day. She is truly one of the most genuine people I have ever met,” Savannah stated.
When Rachel speaks about HGSW her passion for the work shines through. She speaks of the program with love and pride, the way a mother speaks of her child.
“If people didn’t love us and didn’t believe in us than we wouldn’t be here. I want people to continue to believe and support our mission, I know we can go far but we need help.”
- Rachel McGirt
- Camille McGirt, sister and co-founder
- Reena Gupta, friend and co-worker
- Savannah Peck, friend and co-worker
- National Survey of Children’s Health, National Conference of State Legislatures