Finding Their Calling While Empowering Youth

Alumni5 MIN READ

Adrienne Carmack ’18 and Meg Charest ’20 return to their Colby roots as leaders of Hardy Girls

Meg Charest '20, left, Hardy Girls high school program coordinator, plays an icebreaker game with a high school Feminist Action Board member during the Hardy Girls "Be You Boldly!" 2023 spring conference. Hardy Girls is a Waterville-based organization that serves girls and nonbinary youth statewide with supportive and empowering programming.
By Bob KeyesPhotography by Ashley L. Conti
April 18, 2023

During each of her four years at Colby, Adrienne Carmack ’18 volunteered for Hardy Girls Healthy Women, a Waterville-based nonprofit organization that has become a national model for empowering girls and nonbinary youth.

The community service she performed at Colby changed her life because it helped her to find her calling.

“It was a transformative experience in so many ways,” said Carmack, who double majored in women, gender, and sexuality studies and education and minored in data science. “As I got more involved, I realized, ‘This is what I want to do. This is how I want to do community work.’”

Adrienne Carmack '18
Adrienne Carmack ’18, Hardy Girls executive director, mimics the motions of local middle school students as they play a game during the Hardy Girls “Be You Boldly!” conference.

True to her vision, Carmack returned to Colby last week, this time as executive director of Hardy Girls for the organization’s annual spring conference—a rousing, spirited affair that filled the Page Commons Room with energy and controlled mayhem reflecting this year’s theme, “Be You Boldly!”

Carmack became executive director in 2022, filling a role that she has prepared for since her first year on campus when she joined Hardy Girls as a Muse, the name of the organization’s college volunteer program. Now she’s in charge, and she has another Colby graduate at her side. Meg Charest ’20 serves as high school program coordinator. Like Carmack, she got involved with Hardy Girls as a Muse volunteer at Colby.

Carmack and Charest are following a well-worn tradition of Colby support for and involvement in the organization. It was cofounded by Karen Heck ’74 and Professor of Education, Emerita Lyn Mikel Brown, and Colby has hosted Hardy Girls’ conferences since 1998. The other key founder was community member Lynn Cole.

Colby’s 25-year involvement in the organization embodies the College’s commitment to community service, which is based on the idea that students who learn from their communities are better prepared to become thoughtful leaders and engaged global citizens. The Office of Civic Engagement and Community Partnerships has relationships with more than 70 community partner organizations.

Hundreds of Colby students have volunteered at Hardy Girls over the years, and many—as Carmack and Charest do now—have gone on to work as staff members after graduation.

Adrienne Carmack '18 and Meg Charest ’20
Adrienne Carmack ’18, right, Hardy Girls executive director, and Meg Charest ’20, Hardy Girls high school program coordinator, confer over logistics during the Hardy Girls “Be You Boldly!” conference.

The Hardy Girls name refers to the idea of working with young people to help them grow and thrive by making them hardy in the world. The mission of the organization is to promote coalition building, curiosity, critical thinking, and challenge the status quo, all of which help young people bring about positive change in their communities, Carmack said.

This year, Hardy Girls hosted three regional youth-led conferences with more than 400 girls and nonbinary youth in attendance, adding Bangor to existing gatherings in Waterville and Portland. The conferences are planned entirely by high school students and are intended for students in fourth through eighth grades. Workshop topics included cultivating healthy friendships, building self-esteem through body movement, and supporting LGBTQ friends.

Beyond the conference, Hardy Girls presents workshops and sessions throughout the year focused on leadership training, coalition building, and preparing young women and nonbinary people to run for public office or advocate for political change.

As executive director, Carmack’s job is to help the organization adapt to meet the needs of today’s youth and continue to expand programming across Maine to reach more young people.  Among the new programs is Camp Brilliance, a summer art camp for fifth through eighth graders, presented in partnership with Waterville Creates and Colby’s Arts Office and hosted by the Greene Block + Studios. She also is working to build the college-volunteer program on other Maine campuses to replicate Colby’s success.

“Our mission is to strengthen what we have and what we have been doing well in central Maine for so long and replicate it in other parts of the state, where people do not have access to these types of programs,” she said.