17-year-old Lacey Koughan, a Grade 12 student and owner of the new 24DANCE school in Charlottetown, has founded a new organization called 24STRONG, a program aimed at empowering young women.

Like an increasing number of teens, Koughan has struggled with her mental health more than once, but now feels she's come out of that dark place to a sunnier place she'd like the share.

'I feel that's something that's really lacking in our generation — talking.' — Lacey Koughan

"I've decided that I want to help other girls be able to do the same, and just create the best opportunities for themselves that they can," Koughan told CBC News in an interview from Toronto, where she travelled — by herself — for a Tedx student discussion, a TEDTalks event that brought together youth to talk about ideas worth spreading.

Pledge for change

24STRONG, only about a month old, asks girls to make a pledge to make a change — "whether that be discovering something in themselves, a friend or family member, their community or in the world," the 24STRONG website states. 

"I think everyone wants to have a supportive community where they can just be open and share, and connect and cry and laugh!" Koughan said. "It's just not a thing. And so I wanted to try and change that, starting with young girls."

Koughan is hosting the group's second event in Charlottetown next Sunday — what she calls a Strong Circle. There is no fee to join the group but Koughan charges $10 per session to cover costs. 

Girls come together and hang out together for about three hours, she explains, practicing healthy mental and physical habits. Koughan leads them in yoga, meditation, eating healthy snacks and creating "vision boards" to visualize their goals. They also go outside for fresh air.

"The part that I like the most though is we all sit together in a circle, just on the floor, and we just talk," Koughan said. For the first session, Koughan said she suggested they begin by each sharing a great moment in their lives or a difficult time they were able to overcome. 

'Get a conversation going'

"Just get a conversation going between the girls, because I feel that that's something that's really lacking in our generation -- talking," Koughan said. Girls especially, she said, have a tendency to tear one another down rather than build each other up, an unhealthy habit she'd like to change.

Lacey Koughan 24 Strong

17-year-old Lacey Koughan of P.E.I. wants to help girls 'create the best opportunities for themselves that they can,' with 24STRONG. (Jared Doyle )

"I wish I had something like this growing up," she said. "But now that I'm able to offer it I still get to take part in it and learn a lot from teaching other girls." 

Girls need strong female role models too, the Colonel Gray High School student said, which is why she has signed up "ambassadors" with inspirational stories from around the world. 

Koughan has featured the ambassadors — athletes, philanthropists, and others as young as nine — on the 24STRONG website

Future plans

She's still in the process of deciding exactly where she wants to take 24STRONG — one idea is to have a large national meet-up in the future. 

Lacey Koughan, her sister Celia and her mom Donna

Lacey Koughan (left) says her sister Celia (centre) and her mom Donna are her two biggest supporters, along with her dad Marty. (Photo by Chris Pappas)

Koughan is one of half a dozen young Island entrepreneurs in The Hive, a P.E.I. arts-business incubator based in Charlottetown, so she's learning strategies for both her dance business and 24STRONG. 

She plans to host frequent Strong Circles in Charlottetown, and would like others — approved by her — to begin branches of the group across Canada and eventually around the world.