Smart and bold (l to r): Victoria Anderson, Machari Shaw, Dennisha Williams, Courtni Mullins, & Rea-Jean Davis.
Girls Inc. is on an important mission: to teach our city’s next generation of women to be strong, smart, and bold. Formerly the Memphis chapter of Girls’ Club of America, Girls Inc. is the local affiliate of a national nonprofit serving children ages 6 to 18. The afterschool program takes place at 10 centers across the city, from Whitehaven and South Memphis to Hickory Hill.
Instead of hanging out unsupervised while parents work, girls get the opportunity to spend one day a week with volunteer mentors from organizations like the Junior League and Memphis Athletic Ministries. They visit museums and parks, attend sporting events, and participate in group programs that teach life-skills on everything from dealing with peer pressure to preventing pregnancy.
We spoke with five young ladies who have grown up in the program (starting in first grade) and are now entering high school. Dennisha Williams from East High, is a soft-spoken only child who benefits from the social aspect of Girls Inc. “It helps to have somebody else who might be going through the same thing you’re going through,” she says. “Then y’all can build each other up.”
In 2010, an anonymous donor gave $177,000 to fund a partnership with Memphis Athletic Ministries. This allowed Girls Inc. to expand programming to include a sports and adventure component.
During golf lessons at Firestone Park, the First Tee program taught Rae-Jean Davis valuable life skills through the basics of golf. “They broadened our knowledge and showed us that girls can play golf. Especially for African-American girls, there are a lot of scholarships out there.”
Many centers offer tutoring for elementary girls while teens receive counseling on college application prep and even make campus visits. “I used to be really confused in my studies,” says Germantown High student Victoria Anderson, until receiving tutoring assistance. Once homework is completed, the girls hear from guest speakers who discuss different career paths, or take them on field trips. The aim is to expose girls to successful women in our community.
“Girls Inc. has helped me become a better person with my attitude and controlling my temper,” says Courtni Mullins of Ridgeway High. “Being around different people and the staff has shown me how to stay away from bad things and bad habits.”
To address teen pregnancy, girls don’t just get lectured on safe sex and healthy choices. Baby Think It Over is a take-home doll used to simulate the single mother experience. When this life-like baby cries, it can only be soothed with “mom’s” turn-key and must be carried everywhere (in an infant carrier) for at least 24 hours. A computer chip records the quality of care.
The girls also receive mock life packets, complete with a salary, housing options, and childcare expenses. Mentors take the girls grocery shopping where they quickly realize not much spending money is left over after buying food for themselves and their babies. “After all the expenses, I only had $20 left,” notes Machari Shaw from Houston High.
Become a Volunteer
To keep the program strong, Girls Inc. relies on community volunteers, professionals who work one-on-one or do group mentoring. The nonprofit also has openings for one-time guest speakers to talk about careers, talents, hobbies, or sports. Contact Desiree Jones, director of mentoring, at 523-0217.
Most locations are non-fee based and close at 5:30 pm. The LDT downtown and South Park centers charge monthly fees ranging from $30 to $110, depending on transportation offered from various schools. To register, visit girlsincmemphis.org.