A SISTERLY FORUM FOR MORE THAN GIRL TALK.
SAN FERNANDO -- The girls come to get away from the lies.
Once a week, about 30 teenage girls from the northeast San Fernando Valley gather in a storefront office for the truth: about love and sex, nutrition and eating disorders, drugs and alcohol, careers and college.
The goal of CHICAS -- Chicas In Control and Succeeding -- is to unravel the myths and misinformation facing teenage girls while teaching them individualism and self-confidence.
``What's portrayed in the media, what they need to look like to be accepted as pretty in this society -- that's what the girls get bombarded with,'' said Rosalyn Son, 26, one of the founders of CHICAS. ``There's the other side, too. The girls are raised with the housewife image, that they can't go to college.''
The girls also work on community projects, such as painting over graffiti, coordinating anti-drug and alcohol presentations at schools, and more recently, training for a marathon to help raise money for nonprofit organizations.
Like many of the participants, Nathaly Osorio, 15, heard about CHICAS by word of mouth.
``I've met a lot of new friends,'' she said. ``I was interested in this because you don't always hear the truth (about sex and sexually transmitted diseases) from kids in school. I don't have an older sister.''
Despite its name, which means girls in Spanish, the fact that the local group is comprised entirely of Latinas is coincidence, Son said.
CHICAS creates a support network for teenage girls, who have been the focus of numerous recent studies, including those that indicate they are not getting the attention needed to avoid drugs, violence, and sexually transmitted diseases.
A study released earlier this year found that more teenage girls than boys are smoking cigarettes and marijuana, popping prescription drugs and drinking alcohol at a younger age.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 657,000 girls compared to 562,000 boys started smoking marijuana in 2003. By 2004, 675,000 girls started smoking pot.
Studies also show more girls are engaging in violent acts, behavior more often associated with young men.
``Among our girls, a lot of it is hopelessness,'' said Albert Melena, executive director of the San Fernando Valley Partnership, where the CHICAS meetings are held. ``Our schools are not the best, the opportunities are not out there.''
But Melena said children need to be deterred from destructive behavior through participating in the community, which gives them a sense of ownership. It's the same approach he's used in helping youths avoid drugs.
``All these things that are happening to youth, it's all because they just want to express themselves,'' Melena said. ``It's so important to channel that into something positive.''
And yet it's only those who choose destructive behavior who get all the attention, Melena and others say.
``There are girls doing good things out there,'' Melena said. ``They care about the community. You never hear the stories of girls making a difference.''
On a recent weeknight, the girls snacked on carrot and cucumber sticks as they listened to a recruiter from California State University, Northridge, talk about the school's admissions.
Son, who founded CHICAS in 2003 with five friends, said her goal was to get these girls talking about topics they could never discuss with their mothers. She invites women she sees as role models: doctors, professors and athletes whom the girls can learn from and look up to. Son wants the girls to become community leaders.
Growing up in Northridge, Son, who graduated from CSUN with a biology degree, said girls need a place of their own to go, where they will feel safe and won't be judged.
``I was embarrassed to ask my mom about sex when I was young,'' and many girls experience the same feeling, Son said. ``It's amazing. These girls learn from us, and the mentors learn from them.''
Martha Resendiz lets out a smile during a weekly CHICAS meeting in San Fernando. The group -- Chicas In Control and Succeeding -- sets out to unravel the issues teenage girls face, from love and sex, to eating disorders, drugs, and careers and college.