By Laurie Goodman
Girls Inc. Grant Writer and College Bound Volunteer
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about equity. At Girls Inc. our vision as an organization is “Empowered Girls in an Equitable Society”. This is a huge goal, so how do we accomplish this? I think one of the most important factors in a girl’s future is education. So how can we move that needle to see more underserved girls get into college and graduate?
For the last five years, I have been a volunteer with the College Bound program. Alongside some incredible women, our particular role was to help girls prepare essays and personal statements for college entrance applications and scholarship applications. In the beginning, I had no idea what to expect. The College Bound instructor encouraged the girls to be very honest in talking about their lives, challenges, goals, and dreams. Some of these life stories were difficult to hear. These girls’ experiences ranged from physical and verbal abuse, abandonment, extreme poverty, bullying, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, homelessness, dangerous neighborhoods, and many other significant challenges. Many had experienced more trials before adulthood than some of us experience in a lifetime. Frankly, some of the stories I heard would devastate many of us. But what I saw was enthusiasm, hope, and the willingness to work hard. These young ladies were resilient. I continue to see the life changing difference Girls Inc. makes every day.
Maybe you had parents or caretakers who helped you with this journey, I certainly did. But many of these girls will be the first in their families to go to college; in fact, many will be the first to graduate high school. Since starting to volunteer with this group I learned during this time that in Orange County there are over 1,250 students for every high school counselor. So where do they turn for support and guidance? Girls Inc. gives them a “girls-only” supportive environment to learn about what courses to take in high school, preparing for entrance exams, how to find scholarships and financial aid, and the life skills to persevere when times get tough. During my five years as a volunteer I have never failed to be inspired by the determination that Girls Inc. girls possess.
Because of the help they receive, so many girls express a strong desire to come back and help the girls who will follow in their path. As the first round of girls I worked with are graduating, I have seen that happen. I mentor a young lady named Laura. This is a small section of her award-winning scholarship essay.
Laura, wrote, “One in every one-hundred people suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I am that one percent. Touch that doorknob. One, two, three, four. Make sure all of your fingers are touching it. Fix the way that perfume bottle is sitting. If you don’t fix it someone is going to hate you. Bad thought. Count to three three times. One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three. These thoughts rule my mind and my life, but all I want is to be normal.
Learning about my disorders became overwhelming. I had no tools for coping with my daily life. That all changed when I participated in the Girls Inc. Mind + Body program. My instructors provided the guidance I desperately needed. All of my friends were kind, which surprised me. I wondered if they would still treat me with kindness if they knew the truth. My instructor said, “People who have mental disorders, like anxiety or OCD, are not defined by their mental disorders. They, too, are people who want to do great things.” I felt an immense weight come off my shoulders as I settled in to the idea that I, too, could be great even though I struggled with disorders I could not control. I learned how to cope and to accept myself without shame. Girls Inc. might not have cured me—there is no cure—but Girls Inc. did free me. Girls Inc. showed me a door I never would have seen on my own. And after touching the doorknob three times, I opened it and walked past my fears to the other side, where greatness awaits.”
Laura not only won a Girls Inc. national scholarship, but she was also awarded a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim “Gap Scholarship”. The Gap Scholarship means that after all of Laura’s scholarship awards are added up, the Angels will cover any additional costs for Laura to get her degree. They cover the costs of her room, board, books, and tuition. Laura can concentrate on her education.
Laura just finished her first year at Chapman University. Whenever Laura has a break from college you will undoubtedly find her at a Girls Inc. program mentoring the next generation. She has worked at the Girls Inc. summer program for the last two summers.
The girls I work with inspire me everyday. I wish I had been a Girls Inc. girl, but it is not too late to be a strong, smart, and bold Girls Inc. woman. In this blog, we will talk more about Girls Inc. programs and about the issues that face girls and women in our complex society. In this blog, we will hear from staff, volunteers, girls, parents, and supporters.
Years ago, when I started volunteering at Girls Inc., these words stuck with me and still do today. Her name is Isabel and here is what she said about how she saw herself when she came to Girls Inc. and how she left as a Girls Inc. alumnae,
“People ignore me because I am soft spoken, the daughter of immigrants and a women of color.”
My involvement with Girls Inc. started when I was in middle school and I attended the Girls Inc. after school program. The first day after introductions I felt instantly important, visible, and impossible to ignore. At Girls Inc. my voice was heard.
I am proud to say that I will be the first in my family to attend college. By doing so, I will be making a new path for my siblings to follow. My family is looking to me to change our living situation and to better our lives. They see in me both hope and strength.”
To learn more about College Bound and other Girls Inc. programs, please check our website: www.girlsinc-oc.org