On the morning of New Staff Orientation, 27 staff members entered the Simpson Center for Girls for their first day of work. Some had been in the building only for their interview; some had been Girls Inc. participants since they were in elementary school. All were hired for their skill, experience and passion for working with youth.
After a greeting from CEO Julayne Virgil, the training began, starting with topics like best practices in youth development and the impact of trauma on learning. Then, after lunch, staff were posed the big question: “what brought you to Girls Inc.?”
After a few minutes of writing and reflection, the facilitator asked, “does anyone want to share?” Immediately, a hand went up, and a staff member walked to the front of the room. He expressed what he had written: as a young person, he had had been diagnosed with a learning disorder, and as he grew, he had learned not to let it define him. As he wrote on his paper, he wants to work with students to “[show] them that any wall can be broken.”
Then two more hands went up. One woman had written about being a participant at Girls Inc. growing up, and how the programs had impacted her—especially the “phenomenal, resilient” women mentors who inspired her and are still a part of her life. Now, she just wants to give back. Another woman wrote about how programs like these weren’t available to her when she was young, and how she wants to provide girls in her community with the opportunities and resources she didn’t have.
After each share, the entire room snapped and clapped in support. Staff had written about their commitment to helping all girls find joy in reading, and their dedication to dismantling the power structures that have long oppressed women and girls of color. They had written about being inspired to work at Girls Inc. after seeing how Girls Inc. programs changed the lives of girls they knew. They had written about being warriors for social equity and justice. They had written about wanting to make sure girls have role models from their own community, people who can relate to them and provide them with the support they deserve. The reasons kept coming, and the power and the conviction in the room were palpable.
When our girls graduate from high school and head off to college, often as the first in their families to do so, they always point to their relationships with Girls Inc. staff members as key to their journey, and to their success. This is because, as was so clear during the brief exercise at New Staff Orientation, our staff bring their dedication, talent, experience and love to this work, and girls know it- whether they are being taught to read or supported in applying to college. Our staff are here for a reason, and even during the difficult times, that reason shines through. Thank you to Girls Inc. staff, old and new, for being ready to support our girls as they build their strong, smart and bold futures.