If in the future there is a female president of the United States from Tarrant County, she might have been set on that path by Girls Inc. “Our mission,” says CEO Jennifer Limas, “is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold.”
Last year, the organization served 11,685 girls in a variety of programs. Of those, 44 percent were Hispanic and 36 percent were African-American. The girls are drawn from neighborhoods where without outside intervention, the cultural stereotypes limit their perceived choices for adulthood.
“Girls are reluctant to step up and be leaders in their classrooms for different reasons than boys are afraid to do that. Girls are hesitant to take risks in science and math classes,” Limas said. “Our prevention programming needs to address those specific behaviors and obstacles.”
She’s particularly proud of the STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — program. “We’re not just trying to raise girls’ knowledge,” Limas said. “We’re trying to change their attitudes about science, math and technology, so they see it as a field with careers they are interested in.” Professionals in those fields mentor the girls so they can see a successful role model of their same gender.
College becomes a possibility and even a priority with girls who participate in the program long-term, says Amy Rasor, the director of development. “This is our fourth year to have national scholars,” she said. “It changes the trajectory of their lives.”
The organization celebrates program participants going to college with a Summer Shower. “It’s just what it sounds like,” said Limas. “It’s just like a baby shower or a wedding shower, where we shower these girls with the supplies that they need to level the field for their first day of school. Last year we honored 59 college-bound girls the month before they begin college. Laptops, flash drives, paper, printers, towels, laundry baskets, all those things that we would buy for our children if they were starting their college experience.” This year’s shower is scheduled for July 30.
Those young women worked hard for that achievement, said Rasor. “We don’t want them to start that first day feeling less than,” she said. “We want them to not be thinking about that. We want them to be thinking about their education.”
Girls Inc. is trying to prepare girls for the challenges they will face in life. “Our vision is to empower girls in an equitable society,” said Limas. “As we’re building these leaders, we are informing them that the world isn’t fair. The world isn’t equal.” The girls face gender, educational and economic barriers, and the organization tries to give them the skills to meet and defeat those barriers.
Girls also need to be able to deal with the images of women that they see projected in society, and that’s the thrust of a media literacy program that looks at how women are portrayed in television, films, music videos and music and magazines. “They learn how to critically analyze those messages,” Limas said. “We don’t develop those critical thinking skills — if we ever do — until later in life. So when we empower our young girls at a young age to have those critical thinking skills, it empowers them to live a more authentic independent life.”
Rasor said what sets Girls Inc. apart from other programs is that it is curriculum-based and focused on outcomes. “It’s not an after-school program; it is not a childcare program,” she said.
It is about making changes in the lives of young girls.