This year, our company gave each employee a day of service, which means that we can each use one work day to volunteer with a local organization. I enjoy volunteer work and in my later life plan to do a good deal of it, but in the present, between work and squeezing time in with the girls, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. So, I was excited to have the opportunity, and when a friend approached me about a luncheon that was being held by Girls Inc., the day was planned.
I knew very little about Girls Inc. before this day. I had listened to my friend talk about it and knew that it might be a distant after-school care option for my girls, but beyond that, I didn’t really know what they did or what they were all about. What I discovered about them has me excited still today.
The day started out preparing for the luncheon. This year is Girls Inc.’s 40th anniversary, and for their luncheon, they were honoring forty women in the community who embodied their motto for the girls: Strong, Smart, Bold. I had the pleasure of volunteering with one of my favorite co-workers, Renee. She is the backbone of our company and the most openhearted woman I know. She raised three amazing children (now young adults) as a single mom and made some financially difficult decisions that allowed her to work while still being with her children. She might disagree, but I would put her at the top of the Strong category.
To help out, we hung posters and decorated the venue. I was the weak link on the decorating committee; decorating is not naturally a strength. I was also taking my sweet time reading each poster. The one I loved the most was a copy of the organization’s old bill of rights alongside their new one. The difference between the two was startling and telling of why the organization is so important. Both focus on making girls all they can be, but, just a short forty years ago, they were focused on making them all they could be to allow them to thrive in the role of homemaker and mother–an expectation and norm for what their lives would be. Now, the rights focus on preparing girls for interesting work, to appreciate themselves and their bodies, to be strong in who they are, to resist stereotypes–all the things they will need entering a world where so much has changed in just forty years. And with the rapid change, lingering conscious and subconscious pressures still exist.
Lesley will tell you that I hate the word empowerment. It’s a small battle we have from time to time. To me, empowerment suggests being weaker and needing to be built up. I was a little worried that I would be surrounded by this word throughout the day. I wasn’t. They are all about raising young girls with the right mindset to face the every day and the changing challenges that life presents. I spoke with the Director of Operations and Development of Girls Inc of Monroe County, June. She talked to me about a question that they sometimes get from the community: Why are they excluding boys? To answer the question, she told me about their daily bus trips. They pick up the girls from school but also partner with the local Boys and Girls Club to pick up their kids. She told me how differently the girls act when the boys are present and how differently the boys act as well. Both showing off for each other. She talked about who the girls are when the mix is just girls: more themselves. She noted that a feeling of a released sigh can be felt when the last boy exists the bus. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just reality. Boys and girls are different and will face different challenges in the world. They each need different nurturing. The focus of Girls Inc. is specific, targeted, and needed.
Prior to the lunch, we were able to spend some time with the girls who were chosen to attend, one assigned to each table. I learned about their perspective of the organization and all of the things that they were able to experience through it. Gardening, trips to games, the friends they had made–all of these stories were told to me with very striking and impressive articulation. When the guests arrived, I had the privilege of meeting some very powerful, distinguished women in the community: a female chief of police, leaders of companies, founders of organizations that were making a difference in community members’ lives. The energy was palpable.
Lunch was wrapped up with a group of girls sharing their rendition of the bill of rights.
Girls have the right to be themselves and resist gender stereotypes.
Girls have the right to express themselves with originality and enthusiasm.
Girls have the right to take risks, to strive freely, and to take pride in success.
Girls have the right to accept and appreciate their bodies.
Girls have the right to have confidence in themselves and be safe in the world.
Girls have the right to prepare for interesting work and economic independence.
It wasn’t hard to imagine each of those young girls growing to become as accomplished as the forty honorees. I, myself, felt honored to watch it.
All in all, the day was fabulous and the company inspiring. Girls Inc. articulated each of the values I want my girls to grow up with. It was not an empowering experience. It was a powerful experience.