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VOL. 129 | NO. 21 | Friday, January 31, 2014

Empowering Programs

Girls Inc. seeks new way to make girls ‘strong, smart and bold’

By Amos Maki

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On a recent Thursday night in January, 10 young girls enjoyed assorted cheeses, crab cakes, fruits and desserts at Napa Café in East Memphis.

Participants take part in a team-building exercise at the Girls Inc. South Park Center. Girls Inc. provides opportunities for its members to meet with female employees of local companies. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

While the girls, all members of Girls Inc. of Memphis, loved the food, it was their discussions with female employees from CB Richard Ellis Memphis that nourished their imaginations and ambitions.

“It was amazing,” said Tensia Leakes, a sophomore at Kirby High School. “We all had a lot of fun talking to the women about what they do at work and how they got started in their careers and they were seeing what we were interested in and gave us tips on how to get started.”

Leakes and the other young women were participating in Girls Inc.’s Power Dinners series, just one of the many programs the organization offers to inspire and empower girls in the Memphis area.

“The girls can learn the etiquette of business dining and life planning and the women can share their stories and learn more about Girls Inc.,” said Lisa Moore, CEO of Girls Inc. “Everybody had a great time. We had to make these girls and women leave.”

Moore took over the reigns at Girls Inc. in July and has been busy increasing the number of programs the organization offers and how programs like the Power Dinners series are delivered.

It is an effort that is close to her heart.

Moore first became involved with Girls Inc. shortly after she graduated from the University of Memphis in 1987. In the beginning, she volunteered one day a week. Drawn in by the organization’s mission and the girls she encountered, one day quickly turned into multiple days and then a full-time position and a 10-year run with Girls Inc. in a variety of positions across the country.

“I fell in love with it,” Moore said. “I started volunteering one day a week and it became a career.”

Moore took a break to serve as the vice president of BRIDGES and a talent management specialist at FedEx but returned in July to the organization she fell in love with as a young college graduate.

Girls Inc., formerly the Girls Club of Memphis, has a decades-long history of educating and encouraging girls in Memphis. It first began serving girls in 1946 and was recognized as an official affiliate of Girls Club of America in 1954. Along the way, the organization has done everything from help girls win scholarships, encourage entrepreneurship and fight stereotypes.

“We are here to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold,” Moore said.

Moore began her tenure by strengthening and expanding Girls Inc.’s program system, which had relied to some extent on using shared or borrowed space, an approach that had become unsustainable.

“We really sat back to say, ‘How can we align our resources to effectively serve our girls?’” said Moore. “The way we had been programming in the past wasn’t possible moving forward and we retooled that quickly and we’re happy with what we’ve accomplished.”

Moore has also been trying to expand the reach of Girls Inc. into segments of the community that may have mistakenly thought the organization was focused only on urban neighborhoods and issues.

“We’re really working to expand the diversity and scope of our programs that have been highly successful since 1946, to make them available to any and all girls who want to participate,” Moore said. “And the girls want that. They’re very much yearning for more diversity and programming because they want to meet more kids.”

Girls Inc.’s Eureka program seeks to spark an interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math in rising eighth-graders. Girls University provides age-appropriate learning courses on a variety of topics to girls in locations across the city.

Andrew Israel, director of development for Girls Inc., described Moore as a “rock star.”

“It’s the passion and creativity,” said Israel, who, like Moore, first became involved with Girls Inc. as a volunteer. “She really wants to take it to another level.”

Mary Sharp, chief operating officer of CBRE Memphis, which is the corporate sponsor of the 2014 Power Dinners series and hosted the most recent event, said the company recognized how powerful Girls Inc.’s mission is to growing the leaders of tomorrow.

“CBRE Memphis understands that Girls Inc. represents the future of our city and our business,” Sharp said. “By allowing the Girls Inc. participants to meet and talk with women professionals from our company, we hope to educate and inspire the girls to one day find their potential within our field.”

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