HARLINGEN — Sophia Santivanez likes helping those in need.

“I like to help people in their struggles feel like they’re not alone. I like to give them a smile,” said Sophia, 12.

Such admirable qualities made her the perfect candidate for the Junior League of Harlingen’s “Girls in Leadership Academy.” The Academy will be a mentorship program for 95 local middle school girls. About 15 or 20 League members will serve as mentors to groups of girls.

“We’ll be working closely with the girls to equip them with the skills they need to be successful in the future,” said Christina Araguez, president of the League.

The program has been developed in partnership with the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District.

“We will be working with them throughout the year,” said Veronica Kortan, administrator for Organizational Development for the Harlingen school district.

“A big part of the focus is going to be guiding them through the middle school years,” Kortan said. “It’s really helping them to develop a sense of self confidence in preparation for their transition into high school and also into the career of their choice.”

The girls came from all five middle schools, as well as the Harlingen School of Health Professions and STEM2 Preparatory Academy.

“Each school selected girls that would most benefit from the mentorship program,” Araguez said. “It’s very exciting.”

Being selected for the program caught some girls off guard, pleasantly so.

“I was surprised that I was selected,” said Marissa Fitzgerald, 13, an eighth grader at Gutierrez Middle School.

“I didn’t know why,” she said with a smile.

No matter why, she was looking forward to the experience.

“I’m looking forward to creating relationships with girls that are my age that will last,” she said.

Sophia, also a student at Gutierrez Middle School, was just as excited by the opportunity.

“I feel special,” she said thoughtfully.

The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. is an organization of women committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.

The Junior League of Harlingen strengthens communities by embracing diverse perspectives, building partnerships and inspiring shared solutions. Its purpose is to build and maintain the relationship between the Junior League of Harlingen and the community that will perpetuate its mission.