Since 1864, when girls struggled to deal with the fallout from the U.S. Civil War, Girls Inc. has worked with schools and communities to foster the potential of each girl and advocate for their needs and civil rights.
Today, Girls Inc. supports more than 1,500 sites in 350 cities across the U.S. and Canada. Their programs focus on the development of the “whole girl” and their sites provide an affirming, pro-girl environment. 501(c) Services provides HR assistance to Girls Inc. locations throughout the United States.
Christine Chilcott is the chief executive officer of Girls Inc. of Island City in Alameda, CA. She discusses with 501c.com how Girls Inc. helps girls face the same challenges that have existed since 1864 and the unique challenges of life in 2020.
How would you describe Girls Inc.’s core values?
Girls Inc. does not dictate what girls should do or be. We offer the tools for girls to be informed, strong, and independent.
Our core values are to support the whole girl by offering a variety of programs, workshops, mentors, positive environments, scholarships, and information so that girls can grow up the way they choose.
How has the turmoil of the past year – Covid, racial protests, economic turmoil – affected the way you’ve supported your core values? What changes have you made?
We are focusing on stringent levels of safety while still aiming to offer an inclusive, safe, and impactful environment for girls. We’ve made smaller groups for safety precautions, and our advocacy work continues. We are also expanding our social-emotional programs to support girls at this very stressful time and actively create clubs for our teens of color and allies to this work.
How have you managed and inspired your staff during these tough times?
We kept staff employed for three and half months after we shut down. Half the staff had to be furloughed. The staff that was still working was stressed since we were supporting full-day school work, which is not our usual school work. We gave them extra verbal support and small gifts, so they know we value the work they are doing.
How has Girls Inc. changed over the decades to adapt to the challenges facing young women?
Girls Inc. as a national organization has updated its focus on the girl as an individual, not as her identity to others, such as mother and wife. They have also increased programming on current and future needs, such as tech and STEM. We’ve also increased advocating for girls’ rights.
Of the many challenges that face girls, which do you think has the most negative impact?
I believe the biggest negative impact on girls is the belief, and the broader policies that follow the belief, that girls are already being supported in an equal manner to boys, and that all girls are treated equally despite their socioeconomics.
Girls are facing increased issues on race, economic disparity, isolation and the tech divide, which have been amplified by the school closures due to Covid-19. Disenfranchised girls and their families are falling further behind and have to climb so much further to reach the levels they were at before Covid-19, which for many was already behind their peers.
Who bullies girls more – other girls or boys?
I believe girls bully more, but it’s exemplified in less obvious ways. Girls fights tend to be less physical and more mentally focused. Girls might say, “You can’t be part of the friend group. You have to do what I say, or I’ll turn others against you.” They spread rumors and bully online.
How can you stop this kind of bullying?
Identify the behaviors and make people aware of what bullying is and all the forms it can take. Then, talking through how it feels and exploring if you would want that behavior directed at you.
How do schools use punitive and exclusionary discipline practices to push girls out of the classroom?
Schools often seek punitive discipline to restorative practices, and that often makes girls and girls of color feel unwanted in the school setting. Girls, especially girls of color, have shared with us that teachers often make assumptions of them during discipline, including that they hang with certain girls who get in trouble and, therefore, they are a troublemaker and that they are “talking back” or “yelling” when they are defending their points of view.
How does Girls Inc. help girls deal with gender identity issues?
We inform our participants that we accept them as they accept themselves. We ask how they prefer to identify, their preferred name and pronoun. We create the center as a welcoming and inclusive place in terms of visuals, our own behaviors and language, and our staff representation.
Do you ever see a time when Girls Inc. will no longer be necessary because girls have social and economic equity with boys?
Even if equality comes to girls and women, I still see Girls Inc. being necessary to support and reinforce important lessons, and to provide a safe space for all girls.
About the Author
Lisa Kaplan Gordon is a veteran content producer, e-book creator, and social media writer with two Pulitzer Prize nominations and three National Headliners Awards. Her writing has appeared in Washingtonian Magazine, Redbook, Yahoo!, AOL Real Estate, AOL Daily Finance, USA Today, and US Weekly, as well as major metro dailies. She writes several times a month for 501c.com.
Photo Credit: Girls Inc. of Island City