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HER Sports founder believes sports can serve as therapy for teen girls

Crystal Graham
HER Sports

HER Sports founder Jessica Carter is building the foundation for an organization that could go statewide – or nationwide – but first, she’s working to provide consistent programming and put together a strong board to help her vision grow.

A Charlottesville High School graduate, Carter has spent the last two years building an organization aimed at empowering and helping girls succeed through sports.

While Carter’s focus is on building HER Sports, she does therapeutic life skills coaching during the day. Her background also includes working in juvenile and women’s corrections and working as a case manager for Region Ten.

With HER Sports, she has focused on workshops, sports clinics, a HUSTLE academy and summer programming. HER Sports has partnered with the UVA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion division to offer career exploration programs and leadership development.

“Team work makes the dream work,” Carter said. By partnering with others, “it takes a team effort, it takes a village, you know, to help raise the kids.”

Mental Health Check-In

This week, HER Sports is partnering again, this time to offer an event which will give teens the opportunity to engage in a mindfulness activity and make a self-care kit.

On Thursday, the organization will work with the Shelter for Help in Emergency for a Mental Health Check-In for teenage girls at the Fluvanna Public Library in Palymra. Sixteen teens have registered so far.

“I’ve worked with different populations. I’ve noticed mental health is on the rise. We’re really focused on bringing that to the forefront and not being such a stigma. The kids I have worked with, they do not know how to handle or manage their mental health symptoms. Whether it’s depression, anger or seasonal changes or the loss of parents or friends, I have noticed an uptick of incidents.”

While larger cities like Charlottesville have access to more resources, Carter said, more rural areas like Fluvanna County and Buckingham County, don’t have as many resources.

The programming for the Mental Health Check-In Event is built around her experience working with kids and teenagers. She said she’s found that teens lose focus within 30-45 minutes so they try to offer activities over lectures. She said her partner, the Shelter for Help in Emergency, will be working with the teens to put together the self-care kit.

“If they’re in a safe space, they’re able to open up, and talk about if they feel depressed or upset,” Carter said.

Her goal is to offer the mental health events quarterly in 2023 – and thinks that as the word gets out about what they are doing, there will be more demand for events of this nature.

She said her goal is to continue to partner with organizations throughout the region so the kids know there are resources available no matter where they live.

Sports helps build successful women

The mission for HER sports goes beyond mental health – with the foundation being that sports participation will build self-esteem, promote respect and strengthen social ties and promote positive messages for girls who play sports – or any physical activity – to release the energy.

“I’m a product of sports. I felt sports was my outlet. Sports was my therapy back in the day,” said Carter, known to most teens as Coach Jess.

Carter said she is 36 years old, and growing up, she wasn’t aware of mental health resources.

“So when I was playing baseball, basketball, I used that as my therapy. When I was feeling frustrated, or upset, I was looking forward to practice, looking forward to being around my friends. It really shaped the person I am and helped me develop leadership skills and accountability.”

She said the structure also helped her and her teammates stay out of trouble.

“I may not be the person that I am today without the structure. I think it translated over to me becoming an entrepreneur. Without sports, I don’t see me sitting with you here right now. Because I wouldn’t have the confidence.

“Sports really creates a lot of leadership qualities that transitions over into adulthood and careers.”

Impact of HER Sports

While most programs to date have been in Charlottesville and surrounding counties, Carter thinks there is the possibility for the program to grow beyond those borders.

“The mission is anywhere if anyone wants to utilize the career exploration program or want me to provide clinics for volleyball or any other sport, we can come to them. In order for us to meet our mission, we can’t restrict ourselves to Charlottesville.”

To date, HER Sports has hosted 11 programs with 222 participants. Seventy-five percent of girls have participated in more than one program.

Seeing the impact of HER Sports inspires and motivates Carter to keep pushing.

“I’m happy that I’m able to touch lives because I know I had mentors that really transformed my life.”

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.