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Q & A | Girls Inc.

Since 1864, girls have blossomed at Girls Inc.

Savannah Martin, 11, of Pinellas Park, left, watches as Karina Segedy, 10, of Tampa glazes a clay frog Thursday at Girls Inc. in Pinellas Park. Visit www.girlsinc.org or call (727) 544-6230.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Savannah Martin, 11, of Pinellas Park, left, watches as Karina Segedy, 10, of Tampa glazes a clay frog Thursday at Girls Inc. in Pinellas Park. Visit www.girlsinc.org or call (727) 544-6230.

The Spice Girls may have taken a hiatus.

But girl power is certainly not dead.

With all the issues facing young girls today, from pregnancy to domestic violence, it's needed more than ever.

That's a message Girls Inc., a nonprofit national youth organization, has been preaching for more than a century. The group began with the purpose of giving young female workers in urban Massachusetts a social outlet. After World War II, the group started providing young women with domestic skills. Now, it's helping girls grow into economically and emotionally independent women.

Renee McInnis, executive director of the Pinellas Park branch, took a few minutes to talk to the Times about the 144-year-old organization, which is one of the few across the nation that strictly caters to the development of school-age girls through before- and after-school programs.

What is your mission?

Our main goal is to inspire girls to be strong, smart and bold. In Pinellas, we manifest the mission statement by our before- and after-school program and in our full-time summer day camp.

What we really look at is creating a community that values all girls, where they are safe, healthy and thriving and ready to realize their potential as citizens. Girls have a very challenging and complex life; there's racism, sexism, negative body image, depression, violence against girls and increasingly violence among girls.

How does the programming at Girls Inc. reflect its goals?

One way is through economic literacy. We teach girls the value of savings vs. spending. We have programming that reaches girls as early as 6 on to 17 or 18 years old. There's media literacy, which teaches critical thinking so girls do not accept verbatim what they see and hear, especially in a media that defines a girl's worth by physical appearance.

This helps girls learn there's more to them than their appearance. Project Bold is about violence prevention and self-defense that really helps girls recognize danger, not just in a stranger environment but in a family. There are also programs in culture, heritage, sports and fitness. And there's traditional fun things like arts and crafts, gymnastics and yoga.

We've heard the benefits of same gender education, including enabling girls to focus more. Does the same apply for same sex recreation?

There's not the fear of failure there. Girls, oftentimes in a co-ed setting, are marginalized. They are the audience, they are the participants. At Girls Inc., the girls aren't the audience — they take center stage.

It allows them to really explore and test their own limits and expectations and to see without a lot of the limits that we consciously or unconsciously place on them. They can do a lot more than they perhaps think they can.

Girls Inc. of Pinellas Park, 7700 61st St., provides before- and after-school care during the school year as well as summer camp. For information, go to www.girlsinc.org or call (727) 544-6230.

Since 1864, girls have blossomed at Girls Inc. 06/22/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 11:17am]
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