Girls Inc. of Worcester was founded in 1916 as the Worcester Girls Club to address the educational needs of low-income girls in the Worcester area. Although the organization has evolved over the last 100 years, the mission and commitment has stayed the same: it exists to give girls the opportunity to make a better life for themselves by giving them access to educational opportunities, people, and experiences that promote personal growth, academic success, and physical as well as mental health. Gender and racial inequalities are still not a thing of the past and hence our organization remains more relevant than ever in serving under-resourced girls in the community.
I talked to Victoria Waterman, CEO, of Girls Inc. of Wocester about what they are doing and the impact that they are having in the US and Canada.
You are the Chief Executive Officer of Girls Inc. of Wocester, how long have you been doing this?
I have been the CEO of Girls Inc. for 8 years now. Although I had served as Board President of Girls Inc. of Worcester for three years, it was by no means self-evident that I would become the CEO. In fact, when our former CEO resigned from her job, I was on the search committee to find the new CEO. It was not until a friend and fellow board member suggested it to me, that I applied for the job myself. At first, I thought I was unqualified for the job. Of course, I had a corporate career in women’s leadership that spanned well over 25 years but what did I know about the human services sector? Once I had a conversation with the departing CEO about the qualities a good CEO in this industry needed to have to be successful, I decided to throw my hat into the ring, and I got the job!
Now looking back after 8 years, I wonder why I ever doubted myself. One of the highlights of my time at Girls Inc. has been my Ted Talk. I really see it as my mission and greatest personal strength to be able to help girls get a head start even before they leave for college or embark on a career. Being out in the community, sharing my vision for girls, raising money, and raising friends – that’s what I enjoy the most! If you will, being Girls Inc.’s CEO has really been my calling.
How the association works? Do you have any sponsors? If yes who?
Girls Inc. of Worcester is a 501(c)3 non-profit and is one of more than 80 Girls Inc. organizations across the United States and Canada. As an affiliate of Girls Inc. National, we have access to training resources for our staff, evidence-based curricula for our programs, and a network of dedicated professionals all working to help girls become strong, smart, and bold. Our programs are supported almost entirely through national and local grants and donations from corporate donors and philanthropic grant makers. Of every dollar given to our organization, $0.82 go directly into our programs and benefit our girls.
Do you have some metrics: the number of girls you are impacting, etc.
Our low to no-cost programs reach more than 1,000 under-resourced girls annually in the Central Massachusetts metropolitan area. 71% of our girls identify as girls of color and 66% of girls come from low-income families (making less than $50,000/year). Apart from offering programming at our center, we also closely cooperate with local middle schools where we implement our community-based programs. In addition to these in-person programs, we have developed virtual programming that has been very successful during the Covid-19 pandemic. We plan to continue offering virtual programs when the pandemic is over to allow even more girls to have access to life-changing experiences through Girls Inc.
We know that our programs work because we track data on participants and their educational success. For example, 100% of the past 4 years of high school seniors have graduated on-time and are currently enrolled in post-secondary education. They have been accepted to nearly 300 colleges, receiving more than $4.3 million in aid including 19 full pay scholarships. Those scholarships included 5 ivy league acceptances. More than 65% of the girls plan to major in STEM related fields, double the national average. Nearly 40% of the girls are first generation college students. Participants earned over $50,000 in paid externships and completed more than 5,000 hours of volunteer service. These numbers speak for themselves and show that our programs work.
Can you briefly describe each of your programs? Audience, costs, goal.
Our goal at Girls Inc. is to help girls grow up STRONG (healthy), SMART (educated), and BOLD (independent). More than 50% of our programs are completely free, and the rest are purposefully very low-cost, to support families most affected by the recent pandemic and economic crisis. For example, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have opened a full-day Learning Hub which gives girls access to a safe learning space and the technology they need to participate in virtual learning while their schools operate remotely. The cost of this program is less than $10 per day, with many paying far less through our sliding scale scholarships.
All our programs provide all girls the six essential elements of the Girls Inc. Experience: mentoring relationships, intentional programs, girl-only environment, sustained exposure, interactive activities, and research-based curricula. Girls are encouraged to take risks and overcome physical, intellectual, and emotional challenges. Our programs promote personal growth in STEM education, and promote positive body image, violence and drug abuse prevention, media and economic literacy, college and career readiness, mentoring, economic literacy, health and fitness, and sports participation.
We also recently opened the Saint-Gobain Technology Center which was part of our 5-year, $5 million capital campaign. The Technology Center features state-of-the art technology resources and will be used in years to come to provide all our girls with STEM learning opportunities. The Technology Center is also home to our Technology Lending Library which gives girls access to Chromebooks, headsets, and mobile hotspots while local schools operate remotely.
In addition to these on-site programs we also closely collaborate with local middle schools to implement violence and substance abuse prevention programs throughout the school year. For more information on all of our programs, please visit our website.
How can people get involved in Girls Inc. of Worcester?
- Watch, share, and discuss the points in my TEDxTalk titled “Today’s Girls are Tomorrow’s Leaders.” The link to the YouTube video and related materials are here: https://www.girlsincworcester.org/tedtalk
- Run a Virtual Donation Drive at your organization https://www.girlsincworcester.org/wishlist
- Donate or sponsor a Chromebook for a girl https:/www.girlsincworcester.org/donate