Girls Incorporated is where sixth-grader Paris Lewis learned to be “bold and intelligent.”
“I overcame my fear of public speaking and began socializing with people my age,” said Lewis.
Another sixth-grader, Japera King said she comes to Girls Inc. to help tutor kids younger than her. She wants to be a teacher and a lawyer someday. “I like to teach the little children,” she said.
Kelsey Jordan comes to see her friends.
“There are lots of sports, lots of fun activities and the teachers are really nice,” said Jordan, a sixth grader.
The national nonprofit has four centers in Columbus and offers a variety of educational, arts and sports programs, designed to teach girls how to express themselves confidently, be responsible and make good decisions.
“We want these girls to grow into self-sufficient, independent women,” said executive director Dorothy Hyatt. Girls can participate in programs on budgeting and saving money, politics and the voting process, basic home repairs, math, science and technology, sexual health and abstinence, arts and crafts, theater and sports.
“It’s just programs that girls need to face the issues they deal with today,” Hyatt said. “We live in a fast-paced society.”
For $10 per school year -- summer fees are extra -- membership is affordable and Hyatt said more than 70 percent of the girls in Girls Inc. live in poverty. More than 70 percent also come from single parent homes, where a woman is the head of the house.
The organization relies on donations and fundraisers, such as the upcoming Go Green for Girls Inc., a lawn party with croquet and bocce ball tournaments that will be held May 14 at Columbus State University Theatre on the Park.
For $25, two-player teams, will have the chance to compete for championship titles in a double elimination tournament. Players can also opt for the $75 VIP ticket, which includes hors d’oeuvres and a full bar. There will also be a kids zone with snacks and games, staffed by Girls Inc. volunteers and a live band.
Organizer Clair Thayer said no experience is necessary to play -- they’ll go over the rules of croquet and bocce beforehand. Teams should register by May 7.
Hyatt said this is the second year Girls Inc has been involved in Go Green and that it is one of their biggest fundraisers, helping provide programs for the 1,600 girls, ages six to 18 in the organization.
“There are many, many programs they need but they’re not getting at school or at home,” Hyatt said “It’s about giving girls a voice and a safe place to come after school.”
For Undria Thomas, Girls Inc. is where she goes to play sports, like basketball and soccer.
“I’ve basically played every sport they have here,” Thomas said. She started coming to the center nine years ago, as a student at Downtown Elementary.
Thomas, now a ninth-grader at Jordan High, has scored the most goals in soccer out of all the girls in the program. She made the varsity basketball team at Jordan as a freshman, and in February, she was chosen to represent Girls Inc. in Washington, D.C., at the National Girls and Women’s Sports day. Thomas was the only young adult who spoke. She told her life story.
“I used to just run around with my friends and hang around with the wrong people,” Thomas said. “My mom used to say she couldn’t get me everything I wanted because she didn’t always have the money, but she found a way to get me to Girls, Inc.”
She received a standing ovation.
“I didn’t know what that was,” she said, when the crowd stood and clapped. “Someone had to tell me.” Thomas smiles as she talks about the monuments she visited and the people she got to meet during her trip and proudly shows off the pink Washington, D.C. sweatshirt she bought as a souvenir. She never thought she’d go to Washington, D.C. She credits Girls, Inc., with giving her the chance.
“It’s a great place for kids to go,” Thomas said. “It lets you do things you think you’d probably never do.”
Sara Pauff, 706-320-4469