GREENSBURG – A Shelbyville-based nonprofit working to enrich the lives of girls is expanding into Decatur County via programs at each local school system and the YMCA.
A three-year, $200,000 grant received earlier this year helped pave the way for Girls Inc. of Shelby County to bring several of its programs to local children through a partnership with the Decatur County Family YMCA and a positive reception from city and county school officials that will implement Girls Inc. curriculum into the classroom.
The goal is to bring the center’s research-based programs to Greensburg and Decatur County, and in the process empower those young women to be “strong, smart and bold through direct service and advocacy,” according to a Girls Inc. news release from earlier this year.
Amy Dillon, Girls Inc. Shelby County president and CEO, sees her organization’s foray into the Tree City as a way to “enhance” educational programs already in place while supplementing them with sessions that teach girls important life skills such as self-esteem building and conflict resolution.
Elementary and junior high girls at Greensburg, North and South Decatur and the YMCA will take part in the sessions, which in some cases occur over the course of more than one day.
South Decatur and YMCA students have already taken part in the learning experience with Greensburg and North Decatur students scheduled for sessions early next year.
In all, there will be about 30 to 50 hours of Girls Inc. programming taught in local schools, Dillon said. The YMCA’s program started earlier this month after school and is slated to run through mid-May.
The programs are taught by Girls Inc. professionals and include question and answer sessions – and a “question box” where queries may be left anonymously – that build relationships between the instructors and students and contribute to a greater understanding of the material, Dillon said.
Dillon said there is no cost to any child to be part of the programs, which are offered to students in fifth through eighth grade.
“We can touch the lives of every fifth through eighth grader,” said Dillon. “We’re really, really excited about that.”
That accounts for around 750 girls and approximately the same number of boys who can learn many of the same lessons via research-based teachings specifically tailored to them.
The results, thus far, have been well received.
South Decatur Elementary School Assistant Principal Nicole Stone said fourth grade girls heard a program called “Redefining Beauty,” the goal of which was to showcase the old adage that it truly is “what’s inside that counts.”
Boys in the same grade were part of a similar session centered on the same lesson.
Fifth and sixth graders learned conflict resolution techniques.
The sessions were each one-hour long and were held throughout the course of three days.
Stone said teachers were unanimous in their assessment that the programs offered “valuable information students can use in ‘real-life’ situations.”
“Overall, I feel like they were very beneficial, and the majority of teachers wanted [Girls Inc. staff] to come back,” said Stone. “The teachers were pretty positive and supportive … I really do think it’s a good thing.”
Young Chargers will have their chance to hear three programs early next year, including two that focus on financial literacy and human sexuality, North Decatur Junior/Senior High School guidance counselor Barb Lecher said.
Lecher explained that seventh and eighth grade students will hear the programs during their enrichment hours, and likely in some health classes.
Lecher said staff members are “looking forward” to bringing the Girls Inc. programming to boys and girls, and she believes the information will dovetail with what students learn in the classroom.
In particular, Lecher said she feels the sessions are a way to be “proactive,” bringing out into the open subjects that may be difficult for students to discuss. In that respect, the Girl, Inc. programming is helping break down walls and creating an air of openness.
Lecher sees it as a positive for students, staff and counselors alike.
“We are really fortunate and looking forward to working with them, and it’s a win-win for everybody, all-around,” Lecher said.
Decatur County Family YMCA CEO Diane Hart-Dawson feels much the same way.
Hart-Dawson said elementary school-aged YMCA students involved in the facility’s after-school programs recently took part in Girl, Inc. programming, garnering positive feedback from the kids. Those lessons came on the heels of a Greensburg Elementary School program held last year that was facilitated through the 21st Century Scholars program. Seventy-five kids were part of that Girls Inc. programming, Dillon said.
Hart-Dawson noted that pre and post-session testing helps “measure the students’ learning” from the programs, one of which focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lessons.
“They’ve got some good programs and we’ve decided to have a partnership with them,” the YMCA CEO said.
New horizons, new opportunities
Dillon explained that STEM is a major focus of activities at the Shelbyville Girls Inc. facility, and she pointed out the disparity between males and females pursuing careers in that field.
“We focus a lot on empowering the youth to want to learn more about opportunities in the STEM field with a lot hands-on experiences,” said Dillon.
Dillon said statistics show that only about 10 percent of women enter STEM careers. That field includes some of the highest paying jobs, but is still largely dominated by men.
Girls Inc. is working to close to that gap, Dillon said, while striving to improve the employment outlook for the next generation of women to enter the workforce.
They have the stats to back that up, too.
Education is a major focus for about 90 percent of the girls involved with Girls Inc., while nearly that number “find science or math interesting,” according to information from the nonprofit. Approximately eight out of 10 of those young women are ready to take on more difficult math and science classes as well.
The girls also see themselves as future leaders and believe they are hard workers.
The trend continues with a positive self-image and a focus on making good decisions.
Information from Girls Inc. states that only about 48 percent of girls overall have positive body esteem; conversely, around 77 percent of young women involved with Girls, Inc. are happy with their bodies.
They are also less likely to engage in risky behavior, with notable dips in drug and alcohol use among Girls Inc. participants.
Fewer high school girls involved with Girls Inc. are sexually active, and those that are use contraception more often than their counterparts.
Meeting a need -- now and in the future
By expanding into Decatur County, Dillon said the hope is these positive trends will continue for an entirely new group of girls – and boys as well.
The local venture came about through a partnership with Effective Advancement Strategies and its owner, consultant and contractor, David Fry.
Fry aided a capital campaign that significantly revamped the Shelby County Girls, Inc. facility, and the partnership coincided with Fry’s work on the City of Greensburg’s “Community Visioning Process,” which utilized surveys and feedback from the public to determine local quality of life improvements. The surveys were integral in the city’s ultimately unsuccessful push for a Stellar Communities Designation from the state earlier this year, but Fry and Dillon said “the stars aligned” to bring Girls,Inc. to Decatur County, and in doing so, they checked off another box on that long list of sought-after community commodities and improvements.
“David had talked about how there was an identified need for youth preventative services,” Dillon said.
Fry helped coordinate meetings with Greensburg Community Schools Superintendent Tom Hunter and former Decatur County Community Schools Superintendent Johnny Budd that helped launch the Girls Inc. curriculum locally.
“We met and explained what we do, how we do it, and showed them a model we would like to implement in Decatur County,” Dillon explained. "We are so grateful to him," Dillon said of Fry. "He just has such a great passion for the Decatur County community. He understands its needs and how to fulfill them."
Fry said he believes the programs will “make a positive impact on kids during their formative years.” He and Dillon are hoping the programs will continue to raise awareness about Girls Inc. and its impact on children and teens.
“This community is very, very blessed with forward-thinking school administrators,” Dillon said. “They understand the type of value that these types of programs can provide to their students. I am just astonished at how receptive and welcoming they have been. They have embraced us wholeheartedly and have been wonderful advocates.”
The hope is that the programs will prove beneficial for the next three years (the length of the current grant), and that successful results will lengthen the partnership – and brighten the futures of local children and teenagers.
“Our intention is to have this be a sustainable opportunity for Decatur County,” Dillon said. “We felt like there was a need for these types of services in a community that is incredibly supportive of their youth. We want to establish relationships and build upon those to have long-term sustainability here.”