Greater Good

Inspiring All Girls to
Become Strong,
Smart and Bold

Interview by Shannon Stewart Salinsky

When life takes you full circleâbringing you back where you began, but from a completely different perspective, itâs a feeling of accomplishment like none other. âI was 14 years old and in the 8th grade when I first learned about Girls, Inc. of Tarrant County,â said Selena of Fort Worth (pictured on left). âAnd today Iâm standing in the very same building at 19 years old, but now I am here for a job interview.â

A friend told her about the after school program at the local library. Girls Incorporated of Tarrant County (Girls Inc.) is a national nonprofit youth organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be âstrong, smart and bold!â For more than 65 years, Girls Inc. has provided vital educational programs to millions of girls, particularly those in high-risk, underserved areas. Today, innovative programs help girls confront subtle societal messages about their value and potential, and prepare them to lead successful, independent and fulfilling lives.

CONFIDENCE AND SKILLS | âI would never have had the confidence I do now. My mentors helped me realize my skill sets and how to use them. Within my culture, things arenât always easy. I learned through Girls Inc. the importance of not just having friends, but having good friends who encourage me and be a good support system,â she said. With both parents working full-time and having four siblings, Selena said what she gained at Girls Inc. was life changing.

Girls Incorporated of Tarrant County was founded in 1976 as the Arlington Girls Club by local community leaders who saw the need for comprehensive services for girls and young women in the Arlington community. From its beginnings as the Arlington Girls Club, Girls Inc. has grown from serving eight girls in a borrowed facility to serving 10,849 girls in 2013. Girls Inc. offers nationally researched programs that encourage girls to confront and master their physical, intellectual and emotional challenges.

Using Poetry to Break Free from Fear and Insecurity | When asked what was one of the first programs or events that helped Selena work through her lack of confidence she quickly said, âThe Poetry Jam.â Back then it was held every Friday night. As the program progressed, it turned into a mother/daughter event that allowed girls to express their thoughts and while encouraging communication between moms and their daughters.

GIRLS EXPRESSION NIGHT | Today, the program is called the Girls Expression Night and is held annually at the Fort Worth Central Library in downtown Fort Worth. We partner with the library to host the event during Womenâs History Month each year. âSelena loves poetry and the first opportunity she had to share a poem sheâd written with others was at one of these events. It was her freshman year in high school. She felt ready to go on stage and when she got up there she froze. She got stage fright. She cried through the entire poem and it was really rough for her,â said Becky Balarin, Senior Program Director.

âFast forward four years later â Selena has had many opportunities to break through those fears. With the help of her peers and her mentors she is no longer scared. In fact, she speaks eloquently, confidently and with conviction. On March 6, Selena will get up on the very stage where her Girls Inc. journey began. She will share her story and tell the other girls that she has walked in their shoes. A favorite quote from Selena that the office staff uses often is, âI am no longer dreaming of this moment. I am living it.â

THE MISSION | The mission of Girls Inc. is to inspire all girls to be strong (healthy), smart (educated), and bold (independent) through life-changing programs and experiences that help girls navigate gender, economic and social barriers. Providing an all-girl environment that allows girls to interact with other girls and form relationships based on respect, Girls Inc. offers research-based curricula, delivered by trained, mentoring professionals. The programs help equip girls to achieve academically, lead healthy and active lives, manage money, navigate media messages, and discover an interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

The network of Girls Inc. nonprofit organizations serves 136,000 girls, ages 6 to 18 annually across the United States and Canada. In 2013, Girls Inc. of Tarrant County served 10,849 girlsâthe majority of which were from low-income families.

Becky said she began working at Girls Inc. when she was only 22. âIâve been here for over 14 years and I have loved every single day. Our CEO, Jennifer Limas has been here 15 years and it has been a wonderful ride together. Why do I love my job? Because so many of our girls depend on us to be there for them before, during and after school. Our girls feel like theyâre enough hereâthey feel welcome. Our programs help them feel welcome, loved, validated, secure, safe and happy. And I get to help do all that in a dayâs work!â

PRODUCING MANY FIRSTS | Many of the girls report significant firsts as a result of their Girls Inc. experienceâtheir first time to attend the symphony or a concert, first time to ride an airplane (some participated in an entrepreneurship program and traveled to NYC), first time to believe and have confidence in themselves that they can succeed academically and have college/career goals and be very first in their family to graduate high school and enroll in college.

The National Scholar Program | As girls progress to 11th and 12th grades and continue to participate in Girls Inc. programs, they are eligible to submit applications for the Girls Inc. National Scholar program, through which the Girls Inc. national organization awards $5,000 â $20,000 college scholarships.

In 2013 Girls Inc. of Tarrant County had three Girls Inc. National Scholars. The three winners were from Girls Inc. Northside Fort Worth program. All were from low-income, Hispanic families and all will be first generation high school graduates as well as the first generation in their families to attend college.

Full Circle | Update: Before this article was submitted for print, Selena learned that she was accepted for the position for which she interviewed. The position is a program instructor at the Young Womenâs Leadership Academy. Weekly, she will facilitate lessons to the girls on self-esteem, communication and body image. She will also serve as a mentor to the girls in her class and answer their questions about careers, challenges or other issues girls face. We canât think of a better person to fill the shoes. You are living the dream! Congratulations Selena, from all of us at Society Life.

If you would like to volunteer, donate or learn more about Girls Inc. of Tarrant County please visit www.GirlsIncTarrant.org or call Becky Balarin at (817) 259-1050.