Girls Inc. - Empowering girls by showing them a larger world
By Jeannie Howard
The role of women in our society has undoubtedly undergone major transformations over the past four decades, and continues to do so. The same is true for Girls Inc. and what the organization focuses on for girls and young women.
Originally founded in 1975 as the Girls Club of America, the organization, at the time, was focused on fostering good domestic values by teaching girl skills such as sewing and cooking, but Girls Inc. has morphed its focus over the years to match that of the growing role of women. Today the organization has 83 affiliates nation-wide, with three in the Bay Area, and is committed to empowering girls and teaching them how to be successful in today’s world and how to face the ever changing challenges it brings.
“Now we teach girls how to be strong, smart, and bold, and about overcoming glass-ceiling obstacles,” said Tiffany Harris, executive director of Girls Inc. of West Contra Costa. “We are letting them know they can do whatever they set their minds to.”
Serving nearly 500 girls, ages five to 18 years old, throughout West Contra Costa, Girls Inc. offers a wide variety of year-round programing at their location and through partnerships at twelve schools. Because the organization relies heavily on grants and donations, some of the programs do have a nominal fee to assist with off-setting operating costs. From the Girls Who Code classes to Friendly PEERsuasion, Harris said that “all of the programs line up under our mission of strong, smart, and bold.”
Of all of the programs Girls Inc. offers, Harris said that the Media Literacy program is one of her favorites. “I am totally intrigued by the media,” she admitted. “In the Media Literacy program we take a close look at how girls and women are seen in the media, and we analyze it by questioning if it is acceptable, do we like it, are the images truthful, and how should we be seen.”
Another one of her favorite programs offered through Girls Inc. is the Collage Bound Girls program. “This is like our final level program before the girls graduate high school and go into the real world,” Harris said. Through this program, participating young women are exposed to a variety of collage and career opportunities through campus tours and meeting influential female mentors, like the female executives from Chevron that regularly work with the girls. “The year we started this program, in 2016, we took the girls to Washington DC to tour collages and, as a result of that trip, those girls who were freshman then are now seniors and they are applying to collages that we exposed them to,” she shared. “It is exciting just seeing them excited about collage and applying.”
This year, a handful of Collage Bound Girls participants will be traveling to Kenya. “We have five girls that will be going to Africa,” described Harris. “They will be staying at an all-girls school for twelve days where they will be bonding with girls there and learning about Kenyan culture.”
Looking ahead to continued growth and expanding their impact, Harris said Girls Inc. of West Contra Costa’s goal is to be able to serve at least 700 girls and young women by 2020. A partial grant from the nation level of Girls Inc. as well as adding new fund raising events throughout the year as set them up to reach this goal, according to Harris. “Also, we plan to start working with our alums and building that network to increase impact and positive outcomes,” she said.
An alum herself, Harris knows how influential the program can be. “I was a participant when I was 10 and 11 years old and came back in 2011 as a volunteer; I have been executive director since 2015,” she said. “For me, if it wasn’t for Girls Inc. I don’t think I would have cultivated the relationships I have with the women in my life. It really encouraged me to see that sister-hood is important and that uplifting women and supporting one another is phenomenal—in working together we will all succeed!”
Having the privilege to be a part of the girls growing and maturing into young women is one of the biggest rewards she receives as a leader in the organization today. “One of my favorite things is just being able to expose them to new opportunities and just giving these youth any chance we can for them to see things they don’t see in Richmond and the surrounding area,” she shared. “I want them to know that there is a larger world out there and it is waiting for them to take it, to explore, to make something happen, and to make a change—in today’s world our girls need to be empowered to make a change.”
Girls Inc. West Contra Costa
260 Broadway, Richmond;
(510) 232-5440; Girlsinc-wcc.org