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VOL. 126 | NO. 114 | Monday, June 13, 2011

Girls Inc. Celebrates 65 Years of Empowerment

By Aisling Maki

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Many of the city’s most influential citizens gathered Thursday, June 9, to celebrate the Memphis girls and women who embody the “Strong, Smart and Bold” motto of Girls Inc. of Memphis.

The Memphis affiliate of the national nonprofit, whose mission is to uplift, inspire and empower the female leaders of tomorrow, celebrated 65 years of bettering the lives of Memphis girls during a celebration luncheon at Christ United Methodist Church, 4488 Poplar Ave.

The packed East Memphis ballroom included Girls Inc. mentors and board members, representatives from Memphis-based businesses and partner nonprofits, and most importantly, dozens of girls, ages 6 through 18, served by the organization, wearing green T-shirts embossed with the Girls Inc. motto.

In attendance were Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, who took the stage together to thank the organization for providing a safe, fun and educational environment for girls.

The mayors jointly proclaimed June 9, 2011, as “Girls Inc. of Memphis Day,” saying in unison, “We, send greetings and appreciation and offer you our parting congratulations and best wishes at this special occasion commemorating this outstanding milestone of service to the community … .”

Awards were given to several girls in the program; Faith Miller received the Strong Award; Tiara Woods received the Smart Award; Tenesia Amber Leakes received the Bold Award; Skylar Dunlap was honored with the Girl of the Year Award; and Rahni Stewart took home the Girls Inc. She’s On the Right Track award.

The Challenger Award went to Deneshia Poole, who lost seven family members in a 2008 house fire. Against the odds, the Girls Inc. program participant overcame her immense grief and depression to make the Overton High School track team and raise her GPA.

Four women in the community were recognized as roles models, including Kim Cherry, executive vice president of corporate communications for First Tennessee Bank, who also serves on the board of Memphis Athletic Ministries. Cherry received the Community Leader Strong Award.

Barbara Holden-Nixon, a consultant to the Urban Child Institute, was honored with the Community Leader Bold Award. The former president of the Mental Health Association of Shelby County and Tennessee enabled progressive mental health reforms.

“It’s a great honor,” said Holden-Nixon, an early childhood advocate who volunteers for numerous agencies and acts as an advisor to local and state officials on early childhood issues. “I know what this organization stands for and what they do, so it’s especially meaningful.”

Memphis City Schools Northwest Regional Superintendent Catherine Battle received the Community Leader Smart Award for impacting the lives of thousands of girls and female educators.

“We act to make sure that these young girls and their parents know that these opportunities are available for their after school time,” said Battle, adding that MCS is a proud partner of Girls, Inc. “It’s so important, especially as kids start getting a little bit older and get to the middle grades, and they don’t necessarily want to feel like they’re being babysat. They like being around peers and being challenged, and having opportunities in the world to start opening up for them – and that’s what I think Girls Inc. does.”

And businesswoman Carolyn Hardy, president and CEO of Chism Hardy Enterprises, LLC, was the recipient of the Community Strong, Smart & Bold Award. The founder of Hardy Bottling Co. was honored for serving as a role model to Memphis girls.

“I’m honored that I can act as a positive role model to these young girls, and I can identify with a lot of the young girls’ stories,” said Hardy, whose family lost everything when their home burned to the ground when Hardy was a child. “I hope they can see that my upbringing and start was a lot like theirs, and hopefully they can see that whatever their dreams are…I hope that my past leadership and successes can transcend to them and make it seem a little bit easier and a little bit more achievable.”

Girls Inc. of Memphis works to empower girls ages 6 to 18 through a variety of programs designed to build their capacity for responsible adulthood, college preparedness, economic independence and personal fulfillment.

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