High on a hill in a Birmingham neighborhood, girls from different ages and backgrounds arrive every day after school at Girls Inc. of Central Alabama’s Crestwood Center. After dropping their book bags in cubbies and grabbing a free snack, they’ll disperse into different activities ranging from getting help with homework to working on independent art projects.
But the Crestwood Center is much more than an after-school hangout spot. Members of the Young Philanthropist Society (YPS) from United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA) quickly learned the significant influence Girls Inc. has on young girls and teens during a recent tour.
Development Director Meredith Alsabrook walked YPS members through the center. She showed off creative classrooms, where girls interested in fashion were learning to sew, and the downstairs library, where other girls use computers for studying and check out books to take home.
Meredith paused in the library to explain a bulletin board displaying messaging against anti-Asian hate. She shared how the artist asked to create the project at Girls Inc. when the school she attended denied her proposal.
This is just one example of the many outlets that girls find at Girls Inc. – outlets that may not be available elsewhere. The organization implements research-based programming in STEM (science technology, engineering and math), reading, life skills, financial literacy, interactive field trips and sports.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know this was over here and available for girls in the community,” said YPS Member Stephanie Smith. “It was very encouraging to know that that they have somewhere they can go and be exposed to things that they otherwise would not be exposed to, even in their local schools.”
The Crestwood Center offers after-school and summer programming for girls ages six to 18. Girls Inc. also participates in outreach programs at local schools, including free in-school, after-school and summer mentorship programs.
“I was impacted hearing the number of girls that are participating in the programs — 4,000 in a year,” said YPS Member Lee Sims. “When I first heard the number, I didn’t quite understand how they served that many people. Learning about the outreach programs in the community was impressive to me. It makes me want to continue giving.”
Breaking Down Systemic Barriers
One of the most important ways Girls Inc. empowers girls to succeed is by creating a safe space along with professionally trained staff and volunteers. They equip girls with the knowledge and resources to build a pathway to a brighter future.
Programming is vital for the 23% of teens in Jefferson County who live in poverty. Girls in low-income communities and girls of color experience greater inequities, which limit their opportunities. The organization aims to help them navigate these barriers and break through them. Through Girls Inc., students have access to paid internships. They participate in teen leadership programs that focus on college and career readiness. And they learn life skills from everyday mentorship.
Overall, the central theme of Girls Inc. is to encourage girls to be strong, smart and bold. They learn that their goals are within reach and Girls Inc. helps pave the road to get there.
The Why in YPS
It’s difficult to fully understand how amazing Girls Inc. and other UWCA partners are until you see them up close. Going on agency tours brings to life the stories YPS members hear about UWCA’s community involvement.
“Until you come out and visit and hear from people like Meredith about the impact they’re making, you don’t really understand it,” said Sims. “This makes it easier when my colleagues asked me, ‘Why are you in YPS?’ I have a story now to tell that resonates. Personal experience — being here and listening rather than reading a pamphlet. Here’s what YPS does.”
Tours not only give provide insight into the people you’re helping, they also inspire you to step outside your comfort zone by visiting a new area of your city, getting involved in hands-on volunteer efforts or taking the time to learn more about a specific UWCA agency because its mission has special meaning to you.
“It gave me the motivation to want to be more involved,” said Smith. “Of course, we want to give because we want them to be able to have programs like this, but I also want to come and volunteer and help them be impactful. For YPS, it’s saying, ‘Let’s get together and do more than write checks. Let’s go and help — hands-on — the people in our community.’”
While the act of joining a leadership society such as YPS is an important way of giving back, take note of what you’re receiving in return, including meaningful volunteer opportunities as well as invaluable connections you make with other YPS members, local nonprofits and different community members.
“You gave for a reason,” said Sims. “I hope that you feel connected enough to come out and educate yourself. Get involved. That’s my message.”
YPS has an upcoming volunteer opportunity on December 16th from 12:15-4:30 p.m. with The Salvation Army to assist with the distribution of Angel Tree gifts. This is another opportunity to be directly involved with an agency your gift helps to support and is a yearly favorite for YPS members. If you have questions or you would like to sign up, please email Jacob Gordon Jacob.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about upcoming opportunities like this one with the Young Philanthropist Society by visiting the website.