Center for Community Engagement

At Girls Inc., It’s Always Spring

On Friday, April 16, as I climbed into the van to Holyoke, I complained silently about the weather. Yes, after four days of beautiful spring sunshine, all Friday could muster was a blustery, cold wind. I wondered to myself: Is spring really here, or is it still winter? Thankfully, the day’s dreariness rapidly dissolved as I walked into a room and found myself in the company of twenty sunny, enthusiastic dispositions.

Welcome to Girls Inc.

Girls Inc. is a national nonprofit organization that inspires girls to be “strong, smart, and bold.” The Holyoke Chapter in Holyoke, Massachusetts, empowers girls and young women by providing a supportive environment that emphasizes creativity, community, and confidence.

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Thanks to a partnership with the Center for Community Engagement, Amherst College students possess the opportunity to contribute to this mission. For Daisy Jimenez, director of school aged programs, this relationship is crucial for many girls in the program who are the first generation in their families to go to college.

Jimenez explained to me that the presence of college students makes higher education appear more concrete. “There’s talk about [college in families], but there’s not that visual. The continued visits to the college provide this reality to them. It provided an opportunity to expand on the academics that were already here [at Girls Inc].” During the multiple field trips to campus, the girls in the program visit dormitories, eat at Valentine Dining Hall, and participate in a tour.

Like all good relationships, the feeling of excitement is reciprocal.

For Steven Lai ’11, one of the tutors at the Friday session, the best moments in Girls Inc. are the ones “when [the girls] are laughing and enjoying themselves fully.” Kristin Keeno ’13, another tutor, echoed the sentiment: “The tutors are here! The tutors are here! That is the call, every time we arrive.”

I had to admit, the girls’ excitement was contagious. Not only did the girls’ bright attitudes clear away my gray mood, but also their flood of energy swept away my sluggishness.

“Want to play basketball?”

“Want to play Frisbee?”

“You can’t catch me!”

While Joliemar, a spunky eight-year-old, was teaching me how to throw a Frisbee, other students were engaged in their weekly tutoring session. In a study room adorned with craft projects and photographs, tutors and girls were working together to develop tools for succeeding in education.

Tutoring in the program is on a one-to-one basis, with the tutors carefully tracking each girl’s progress in a written report. In this way, progress comes quickly, because tutors can build upon what a girl has accomplished in the past.

It is exactly this type of continuity that makes this organization stand apart from the others. From five to eighteen, girls who stay in the program learn about college every step of the way, from the earliest campus visit to the acceptance letter. A painting on the wall sums up nicely the spirit in which girls can pursue this goal. It reads: “Anything is possible.”

Olga Gonzalez knows this best. After completing the Girls Inc. program, she came back to serve as a staff member in the Holyoke Chapter. For Gonzalez, each girl is a flower that “comes in here as a seed.” With a place where “they can be themselves,” the girls “start expressing themselves, and they start growing.”

For many residents of the Pioneer Valley, blooming flowers herald the arrival of spring. Yet at Girls Inc. of Holyoke, spring is year-round phenomenon. Every day, girls grow into full-fledged individuals ready to weather both the rainy and sunny days ahead. With the right type of care, they become stronger, smarter, and bolder.

Welcome to Girls Inc. Welcome to spring.

Tracy Huang ’11 brightens up her day by mentoring with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, watching Glee, and training in Karate and Tae Kwon Do. She will gladly accept cheerful anecdotes and questions at yhuang11[at]amherst[dot]edu
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