05/15/02
Girls Inc Girls Rights Week
    by Fiona Barnes (reader)

There's a web site out there that every girl who's listening should know about: www.girlsinc.org. This is the home on the internet of Girls Incorporated, a non-profit organization that began in the 1860s to help girls and young women by providing them with safe places they could go to for recreation, wholesome company, and good advice in the mill towns of New England. These were the first Girls Clubs in America, and their early mission was to fuction as a haven for the girls of working parents who might otherwise be left to their own devices. They were places where girls could learn to become future homemakers, and places where they found friendships. Here is one older woman, writing about the importance of the clubs to her during the Depression: "I remember doing chores to earn my weekly five cent fee so that I could attend the program. I went without candy, gum, ice cream and movies so that I could belong. Because I knew there was a place for me, and always felt as though the club wanted me."

Since the 1960s the purposes of Girls Inc. have significantly broadened, and the organization has become increasingly visible on the national scene for its ability to thoughtfully address some of the pressing issues for girls and young women in our society. For decades, Girls Inc has pioneered active, on-going campaigns and against substance abuse and teen pregnancy; it has proclaimed a declartion of girls rights, and it has also created a concerted program for heightening the awareness in girls of the careers that actually exist for them today, despite some of the persistent myths to the contrary. One of these initiatives is Operation Smart, which in the words of its director, Joe Martinez, is "working to put an end to the myth that the fields of math, science, and technology are tough, unattainable career options for girls. . . . We want to help girls realize that these professions are choices for them." Seventeen-year-old Vicky Ortiz, who moved from Guatemala to Shelbyville, Indiana, would certainly confirm that. She writes: "Throughout the six years that I have attended Girls Incorporated, I've participated in every course available and I am a smarter, stronger, and bolder individual for it. I believe in a woman's right to choose her destiny and with the guidance and knowledge provided at the center, I have been able to practice my rights and express my opinions." Vicky wants to be a surgeon. And there's no telling what your daughters and granddaughters, your neices and neighborhood girls dreams will be after visiting girlsinc.org.

Copyright 2002 by John Cech

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