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A half-century after its start in Michigan, GEMS has gone global. Originally called Calvinettes, GEMS (Girls Everywhere Meeting the Savior) is a girls’ club program in the Christian Reformed Church and other denominations.

The relationship formed by leaders and girls is life-changing, said GEMS board president Barb Miedema. “Women show the girls what it is to be a Jesus follower and have a living, dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ,” she said.

 Girls from first through eighth grades meet in small groups of six to eight and get to know each other and their leaders well. They learn life skills, such as emotional and physical health, citizenship, understanding disabilities, building family and other relationships, resisting peer pressure, and activism.

“We encourage activism for injustices,” said current director Jan Boone, citing Micah 6:8 as the motivating verse.

The 50th anniversary will be celebrated at this year’s July leadership conference in Asheville, N.C. GEMS also runs a leadership program for high school girls and a summer camp for GEMS-age girls.

The first director was Barbara Vredevoogd of Hudsonville, Mich. She wrote a program and organized a board. “God blessed [the effort] to serve many generations,” she said.

A major shift occurred in 1996 when GEMS started to focus on going into communities through sponsoring churches, said former board president Jean Koops.

GEMS opened four clubs in Zambia, Africa, last year and now has 14, with about 500 girls meeting on Saturday mornings. GEMS started in Africa with a leadership training program, followed by the start-up of clubs, with sister clubs in the United States and Canada providing financial help and pen pals.

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