Girls Inc. helps girls 'be all that you can be'

The nonprofit group Girls Inc. is celebrating 150 years of helping young women reach their goals.

Courtesy of
The Waterbury, Conn,. chapter of Girls Inc. is the oldest girls club in the United States. The organization was founded in 1864 and was earlier known as the Girls Club of America.

Rocket scientist or stay-at-home mom. Elementary schoolteacher or famous architect.

Be all you can be isn’t just for the US Army. It’s the ethos of Girls Inc. of Southwestern Connecticut, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. The nonprofit organization helps girls develop into strong and bold women through a variety of programs.

Ultimately, Girls Inc. is about possibilities, says Donna Maglio, executive director of the southwestern Connecticut chapter.

A lot of times girls are under the misimpression that they have to make a decision about what they want to do, Ms. Maglio says. “If you choose to stay home and raise a family that can be seen as a lesser choice than if you’re a CEO. Equality is about the choices we make and not just the pay.”

In 1864, with the Civil War in its fourth year and Union troops wearing Waterbury Button Company buttons on their uniforms, seven society women in Waterbury decided it was high time to help the young women in their midst. And so on Jan. 15 the founders inked their names in what is now a sepia-toned notebook.

The organization, then known as “Girls Club of America,” became the first official girls club in the United States.

Today Girls Inc. is a nationwide program, with chapters in every state.

The southwestern Connecticut chapter reaches more than 1,600 children in the greater Waterbury area. It also offers programs in Bridgeport, Fairfield, Stamford, and Greenwich. Many of the organization’s members, aged 5 through 18, come from single parent and low-income households.

The founders envisioned a school where young women would learn how to keep a home together with some basic education in writing, reading, and mathematics. Primarily it was akin to a finishing school for young working women, Maglio says.

That approach lasted into the 1950s. But as the sexual revolution and women’s rights movements arrived, and the organization realized it needed to shift its focus – and quickly.

“We’re about having our girls feel confident with what success is – and it can be different things for different girls,” Maglio says.

The organization relies on private donations to maintain its programs, which include college and career planning, health and fitness classes, and self-esteem and life-skills sessions. Programs in science, math, and technological fields are also available.

Cooking and sewing classes are offered, too, because “what’s old is new again,” Maglio says.

On Fridays many of the girls come straight from school. They prepare dinner, set the table, and eat together.

“A lot of these girls don’t have this – eating together, asking how their day or week went – at home. So it’s really nice for them to get with 20, 25, other girls all working together, talking together,” Maglio says.

A teen leadership course is another popular program. It teaches accountability, responsibility, and community service. As a result, 95 percent of the participants graduate from high school and go on to college. Many of the young women are the first in their family to do so, Maglio says.

“We just want to give them enough exposure so they know they can make choices,” she says.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to