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Play volleyball, bocce ball to raise money for Girls Inc.

The third annual Go Green for Girls Inc. Lawn Party is Saturday, May 19, with lawn games, live music and activities for kids young and old. The fundraising event for Girls Inc. Columbus and Phenix City-Russell County will feature volleyball and Bocce ball tournaments.

"Go Green is our big special event," said Dorothy Hyatt, Executive Director for Girls Inc. of Columbus and Phenix City-Russell County. "We raised $70,000 last year." Sponsorships contribute significantly to the fundraising effort, and are still available. The money goes to the operating budget for programs and transportation for the 1,500 girls the agency serves each year.

"It's important to serve a diverse group of girls," Hyatt said. "And the neat thing about what we do is our programs are comprehensive." The dozens of programs for girls of all ages are designed to fulfill the Girls Inc. motto: "Inspiring all Girls to be Strong, Smart and Bold."

The four not-for-profit centers in Columbus provide girls ages 6-18 with mentoring by staff and peer leaders and learning opportunities that address the many aspects of a growing girl's life.

The centers' Economic Literacy Program helps girls learn the value of a dollar. They learn the basics, like how to budget and how to keep a checkbook. They learn the correlation between education and income. "We talk about needs and wants," Hyatt added. "We talk about all aspects of budget and money and lifestyle and standard of living."

Prevention programs start early and focus on pregnancy, drugs, alcohol, smoking and conflict resolution. Girls learn assertiveness, learn to make good choices and learn the consequences of bad choices. Operation SMART encourages enthusiasm for science, math, technology and engineering. The Girls Inc. robotics team won the Spirit Award in 2010, their first year of competition at the Lego Robotics competition at Columbus State University. The Build IT curriculum immerses girls in information technology, with each student designing their own website. Local professionals volunteer their time and skills to engage the young women in new interests and guide them through the programs.

"We live in a real generous community," Hyatt said. "We just have to look for the right person."

Hyatt grew up in Girls Inc., received Girls Inc. scholarships to earn her bachelors and masters degrees at Troy State University, and returned to work at the centers after graduation. She became the executive director in 1980.

Career education and guiding girls on a path toward college makes makes Girls Inc. "one of the greatest agencies in town in terms of what we do," Hyatt believes. Back-to-back National Girls Inc. scholarships for $15,000 were won by Caroline Henley and Adriana Embus. Local centers award partial scholarships annually to students through a trust fund established by Eula Vicker, a member of the now-defunct Quota Club that founded The Girls Club of Columbus in 1952. Many students over the years have received full scholarships to academic institutions through private donors.

Girls Inc. girls have become doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, architects and aerospace engineers. One youngster who discovered her love of theater during the summer program is now pursuing a masters degree in theater at the University of Arizona. "But you know what the neat thing is, I love it just as much that a girl chooses a career in cosmetology. They are self-sufficient, determined young women. We want to empower them and just give them the confidence to reach for the stars."

Adriana Embus, 17, is a Brookstone School junior and National Scholar who also won a 2012 Global Connections Art & Essay contest on the theme of world hunger. She has been a Girls Inc. girl since she was eight years old. Adriana witnessed extreme poverty during a trip to Columbia, her parents' homeland, and discussed in her essay how we can all play a role in eradicating hunger. She will visit Turkey this summer with other essay winners from across the country.

"Girls Inc. has taught me to be strong and brave and taught me that no obstacle can take me off my path," Adriana said. "It's taught me to be smart and to inspire other girls. It's taught me to be bold because I am really outgoing now, and I'm confident in myself."

Over the years Hyatt and Girls Inc. athletic director Walter McKee have established what she sees as "the most comprehensive all girl sports program in the southeast." What was once a "ragtag" soccer team now wins city championships. The jump rope team boasts gold medalists from AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) competitions, and will soon compete in a regional tournament with their sights set on qualifying for the national Junior Olympics. Other sports include volleyball, softball, basketball, swimming and summer golf clinics.

"Research shows that girls who play team sports are less likely to get pregnant, use drugs or drop out of school," Hyatt said. "I think a lot of girls will tell you it's about building confidence and self-esteem."

Northside High junior GeGe Merideth, 17, has grown up at the Girls Inc. Kolb Center, and is a jump rope team leader, a youth worker and teaching assistant for the younger girls. She traveled to Washington, D.C. in 2011 with teammate Undria Thomas and Coach McKee for the National Women and Girls Sports Day three-day conference.

"I chose to live by the Girls Inc. motto," GeGe said. "They teach us how to be professional, how to be a leader. It takes a village to raise a child, and (Kolb Center staff members) Miss Janice and Miss Jo encourage me are very involved in what I do."

Girls Inc. staff members will be at the Go Green for Girls Inc. Lawn Party Kid Zone with inflatable toys from Monkey Joes, crafts and other activities for children three to six years old. "It's just family fun," Hyatt said. "There's great food, beverages for adults and kids. Everyone has fun. They get silly, they have fun and get competitive and love it. I want everyone to know they are welcome here. It's for all of Columbus."

DETAILS

WHAT: Go Green for Girls Inc. Lawn Party fundraiser

WHERE: Woodruff Park on Bay Avenue

WHEN: Saturday, May 19. Gates open at 2 p.m.

COMPETITION: Teams of six for Volleyball; teams of two for Bocce Ball and Family Bocce Ball

PRIZES: First place, $250; second, $200; third, $150

TICKETS: $50 adults includes one tournament entry, food and beverages (adult beverages, too). $15 dollars for kids ages 3-16. Tickets available at gogreenforgirlsinc.com

SPONSORSHIPS: Five levels of sponsorship available. Call 706-683-0809 or go to gogreenforgirlsinc.com

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