When children misbehave, they are often told to "act their age.''
But girls at the Haverhill Boys & Girls Club are being taught to act well beyond their years.
A group of girls meets each week with members of the Haverhill Merrimack Valley Soroptimist Club, where they learn skills designed to help them manage life's challenges.
"We try to get them to know just a little about growing up," said Kitty DiJulio, who works with the girls. "We establish a relationship with the girls and work with them."
Several members of the club teach about 16 girls ages 9 to 11 skills that they may not learn at home or school. DiJulio said the focus is to help the girls build positive self images and undertake new challenges. The sessions are headed by program coordinator Beth Ballas, who makes sure each session has a topic, a presenter and an activity related to the topic.
Most of the projects involve arts and crafts, but the girls have also learned cooking, as well as dining etiquette and proper manners. The girls decided to call themselves "S-Factor" after the club asked them to come up with a nickname involving the word "soroptimist.''
"It was suggested to us that some of the girls could use some more structure," DiJulio said. "As we've been working with them, we've seen them not just following rules we've set out for them, but they are also appreciating other people's opinions."
The Soroptimist organization is dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls.
Recently the S-Factor girls also learned to help another community, as the girls used their sewing skills to create pillow cases. The pillow cases were transformed into simple dresses by Soroptimist club members at a work meeting. After the girls held their own fashion show and modeled the dresses in front of each other, they picked their favorite dresses to be shipped to Haiti for girls who were affected by the earthquake of 2010.
"Only one or two girls had ever sewn before, and they all enjoyed it," DiJulio said.
They learned a skill that was useful in life and also received the satisfaction of helping other people.
"It was a cool experience to be able to be able to help someone else in a different country," said Jayla Kitchings, a member of S-Factor.
The girls have also made blankets which were donated to the MSPCA in Methuen for dogs and cats.
When the girls aren't making crafts to help other people, volunteers come in to teach other lessons. A dental hygienist recently visited and talked about the importance of keeping teeth clean. A representative from a local bank visited to teach the girls about the importance of saving money.
On holidays, the group has activities with special themes. Last week, the girls built an Easter basket, complete with bunnies made from cotton balls. Last month, the group made chocolate ducks with green hats for St. Patrick's Day.
This year, the club got some help to do bigger and more involved projects. The Haverhill Merrimack Valley Soroptimist Club received the Janet Pfeiler Advancing the Status of Women Grant of $1,000 to use for the 2011-2012 school year. The grant, which is named for a past governor of the national chapter, allows the club to buy supplies for projects.
The Soroptimist club members are already making a difference in these girls' lives. Sara Levesque said she learned how to bake pizza during one of the sessions. Then she, with help from her mother, made pizza for her family at home. Sara also said she makes a more conscious effort to be more respectful to others on the playground at school.
"I make sure I'm more friendly to others and I listen to directions more carefully," she said. "When (teachers) tell me not to run in the hall at school, I listen now."