Oak Brook’s January Pawluk has made it her mission to empower young girls through Mission Propelle, charity work, and good old-fashioned family values.
In a time where women’s equality issues are at the media forefront, and Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In encourages women to assert themselves in careers, Oak Brook’s January Pawluk is proudly doing her job right here at home. A dental hygienist by trade, Jan believes her true calling is to raise her daughters, Ella and Grace, to be healthy, happy, and empowered.
Originally born and raised in Indiana and Michigan, Jan was adopted when she was two years old. “There are a lot of emotional challenges when one is adopted,” concedes Jan, “but because of that, I just really, really want this next generation of mine to be raised with love and trust.”
After moving to the suburbs on Mother’s Day weekend in 2010, Jan and her husband John, an endodontist, settled into a life of family, friends, and charity work.
But nowadays, Jan is always looking for ways to find balance for herself and for her family, which she considers the biggest challenge of motherhood. She says, “This is a time for my girls to enjoy being kids and it’s sometimes tough to balance that with daily pressures.”
One way Jan has found help with balance is by introducing Mission Propelle to students at Brook Forest Elementary School in Oak Brook where her daughter Ella is a first grader. Mission Propelle, formerly Smarty Pants Yoga, is an emotionally-supportive empowerment program for elementary school girls that helps them advocate for themselves. The program incorporates yoga, reading, and mentoring over a 60-90-minute class period, once per week after school.
The program runs six weeks in the fall and spring for grades kindergarten through fifth, with over 30 participants so far. “I’ve gotten all positive feedback,” says Jan. “I especially like that it’s a non-competitive activity for girls where they can bond with one another outside of school.”
According to Jan, Mission Propelle is technically a yoga class but yoga is the last part of the program. First, girls read a story relevant to the weekly lesson then answer story-based follow-up questions about bullying, body image, self-esteem, and more. There are also small group activities where girls are encouraged to speak their minds freely in a comfortable and supportive atmosphere. “It’s all about making girls feel confident and building their self-esteem,” says Jan. “It’s such a wonderful program.”
Younger participants are separated from older ones given that the upper grade elementary students have different life experiences and concerns. “The younger girls aren’t focused on body image yet so the program caters to each group differently,” explains Jan.
The program ends each session with a cheer. “I am smart. I am kind. I am strong. I’m a girl!” The girls are also encouraged to practice this at home. “They make the girls yell it,” laughs Jan, “and the girls just love it.”
Mission Propelle also offers summer camps such as the popular Blooming Bosses. For one week, girls are able to create their own business idea, analyze material costs, set product price points, and finally present their business plan to the whole camp during a party on the last day.
In addition to her work with Mission Propelle, Jan is heavily involved in charities in the area as a lesson to her daughters about giving back to the community. Jan is a member of the Hinsdale Junior Women’s Club, Infant Welfare Society Auxiliary—Oak Brook Chapter, and the newly appointed Daisy Girl Scout Leader at Brook Forest School.
One of Jan’s favorite events so far was working with Hephzibah Children’s Association during Dental Health Month. “We had a dental health education party with the children,” says Jan. “They are such strong kids and all so wonderful.”
Being adopted, participating in Mission Propelle, and doing charity work has only strengthened Jan’s resolve to be appreciative of her family and the role she was given within it.
“To Jan, I have to give her credit,” says Rose Marie Pawluk, Jan’s mother-in-law. “She stopped working because being a mom is her number one priority. She goes above and beyond for her girls.”
And her personal mission is to be a woman who encourages her daughters to be strong, to stay grounded, and to give back.
“I have such a unique bond with my daughters and I hope it lasts forever,” Jan says. But the most important thing for her is that her daughters grow up surrounded by one thing and lots of it. “Love,” she says simply. “Unconditional love.”