Kelsey Hicks

Kelsey Hicks left Memphis for college with plans to become a neonatologist. Today, she's Director of the Women's Resource Center at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Penn., a dream position, she says, that she started just two months ago. Her road has been long and winding  - her ease navigating that road is a testament to where she spent a lot of her time growing up.

"Girls Inc. has made me compassionate and considerate," says 29-year-old Kelsey, "and also daring and empowered - in a sense, fearless."

Put another way - Kelsey Hicks is bold.

She was active at the South Park Center from age 5 to 18, where she was exposed to everything from gymnastics to ballet and learned--from studying historical figures and from spending time with center staff--what it means to be a bold woman of color.

"One thing that I always remember about being at Girls Inc. of Memphis - they forced me to face my fears. I didn't want to be in gymnastics - but they always pushed me. I can still hear the women that worked at our center. 'You can do it! Don't be scared--just try it!'

"And in the middle of that I can hear my mom. She always used to say, 'Nothing beats an effort but a try.'”

Kelsey was born in Clarksdale, Miss., moved to Memphis at 4 and started Girls Club (which soon became Girls Inc. of Memphis) at age 5. Her immersion in Girls Inc. programming shaped her over the next 13 years, and Girls Inc. became extended family.

"I am an only child," Kelsey said, "but I have sisters and aunts from Girls Inc. everywhere - they are my family."

She absorbed everything Girls Inc. had to offer and by 14 she was working as an intern, counseling girls about their health and their sexuality. As part of the college prep program, she toured colleges in Mississippi her senior year, but wound up choosing The University of Tennessee at Knoxville where she quickly changed her major from biomedical engineering to religious studies. 

"It turns out I love the social side of people more than I love the physical side," she said.

She earned her bachelor's in 2005 and worked for a publishing company then went to work for the State of Tennessee in child protective services. She loved the work but it overwhelmed her and she decided to make a big change. She moved to Georgia, moved in with a family friend and got to work on a masters in education at Mercer University.

"I was determined I was not going to let myself go back home and I was determined I was going to get the degree and it was going to get me where I needed and wanted to be."

She got the degree, then worked at the College of Wooster in Ohio and at Texas Woman's University. Along the way she experienced sexism, racism, inadequate pay and a fair amount of frustration. But she didn't give up - she just drew on that Girls Inc. boldness.

"I looked at what I was doing and said 'I can do more. I can be more.'"

At Bucknell she is the youngest director in her department, working to support students and act as a liaison to administration. She draws on her experiences at Girls Inc. and beyond every day to enrich her students and build them up.

"I am bold in this position," Kelsey says. "Everything I’ve done professionally has been a bold step. Even if it didn’t match, I have moved, navigated and built community wherever I’ve been."

Her perseverance along her winding career path has paid off and she's now paid to empower her students in the same way that she's been empowered.

"Girls Inc. encouraged me to stand up and be unapologetic," Kelsey said, "and that I don’t have to please anyone on my journey of exploration but myself.  They were my village - the village it takes to raise a child."

Mattie and lisa

Mattie Reese is a freshman majoring in nursing at Philander Smith College in Little Rock. She's happy, confident and a shining example of the importance of Girls Inc. and the power of mentors.

Mattie says she never had a mother figure and her father left when she was 15. What she DID have was her Girls Inc. family beginning at the age of nine. "My mentors at Girls Inc. were my mother support," Mattie says. "They helped me become a beautiful, strong, smart and bold young lady."

Lisa says that since Mattie's graduation from Manassas, a community of women has surrounded Mattie to help her transition from high school to college.

"Mattie has no family support and has been living on her own for much of her childhood, going from friends’ and mentors’ homes over the years," Lisa said. "Girls Inc. alumna, staff and friends hosted a ‘trunk party’ to set her up with dorm room supplies. One mentor, a former Girls Inc. staff member, drove Mattie to college and still hosts her for holidays and breaks."

When there was a snag with her financial aid package, Mattie assumed she was coming home before she'd even started her first semester. Two staff members drove to Little Rock to help, and she was able to start her freshman year. She completed her first semester only to find that she had an unpaid balance of $1,723. Lisa turned to her friends on Facebook.

"Within 24 hours, 16 women that had never met Mattie were so inspired by her story that they pledged enough to cover the balance," Lisa said. "As a community of women, we have stepped in for Mattie. Some have given her shelter, food and clothing. Others  have offered advice and support navigating her educational journey. All have given their love. Mentoring comes in many forms, and all are valuable!"

"It's awesome - they did it for me!" she said. "They want to see me succeed even though I had a lot of trials and tribulations. I thank them every day for their motivation. It makes me work harder."

Mattie says the ongoing support from her team of mentors has inspired her to pay it forward by helping other young women.

Brooke jones

Brooke Jones is a senior engineer in the Product Movement and Engineering department at FedEx. Her fascination with computer science and aviation started with an early social networking site that predates Facebook.

"I liked building websites--back in the day I used MySpace," she says. "That's what drew me into STEM."

But it was Girls Inc. of Memphis that sealed the deal. Starting in tenth grade, Brooke took part in TRiO programming through Girls Inc., opening her eyes to the world of math and science. The summers she spent at math and science camp at UT Knoxville intensified her interest.

"Those camps opened my eyes because there were students there from all over the place," she said. "I was never that interested in chemistry before, but once I got there and saw people who were so good at it, I wanted to learn more."

She earned her bachelor's in technology management from the University of Memphis in 2012 and soon transformed her part time job at FedEx office into full time technology work at FedEx. She's proud of her success as a woman working in a field dominated by men--and of what that success has meant for her and her family.

"Growing up, my mom was disabled," Brooke said as a panelist following a special showing of Hidden Figures for Girls Inc. participants (see story above). "My aunt took care of me and mom and we always lived with somebody else. Last year I bought my first house. Working hard and being able to take care of my mom by myself and not having to put the burden on someone else has been so rewarding."

Brooke continues to learn and grow--while working she's managed to earn a master's degree in aviation management. But her Girls Inc. connection has also helped mold her into a role model and inspired her to be more involved in the community. Her willingness to serve on the panel for the Hidden Figures event is just one example.

"We need more movies like Hidden Figures," Brooke says. "I think it did an amazing job of showcasing three women in science. And I expect to see more like it. I think the creative minds have identified the avenues available to expose girls to STEM and make it interesting."

With or without Hollywood, Brooke says she'll continue to advocate for making STEM education available to all girls.

"Organizations offering STEM camps and workshops to young women are crucial to the advancement of women in STEM," Brooke said. "STEM is not as trendy as fashion and other arts, but it is the foundation of all those things. The more we expose young girls to the endless possibilities STEM has, it will become a trend."

 

THANK YOU!

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Thanks to our generous donors, we raised an incredible $10,903.44 on #GivingTuesday this year. That's more than FIVE times more than what we set out to raise - enough to pay for a week of programming for 508 girls!

 

Those girls will receive the positive, pro-girl programming at the hear of the Girls Inc. Experience and will get the chance to grow and reach their full potential.

 

That incredible sum was raised from a total of 64 donors - 34 of them made gifts for the first time. We asked for a minimum gift of $21.64, the price of one week of Girls Inc. of Memphis programming. But for these GivingTuesday heroes the average gift was $165.20 - way to go!

Didn't get around to giving? Don't worry! It is never too late to give a gift to help girls grow.

Give now....



Testimonials

Empowering girls and a new generation of women leaders is the global civil rights issue of our time. It takes a village to unlock a girl’s tomorrow in today’s world. Girls Inc. is one of the critical keys to opening that door for thousands of Memphis girls. I am a proud supported because I believe that it is men who have to step up when it comes to the current plight and future hopes of all the girls within our reach. - Rabbi Micah Greenstein
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