farm girlsDid you know that the Girls Inc. Youth Farm, just 10 minutes away from downtown Memphis, is the ONLY girl-run youth farm in the country? You do now!

The Youth Farm is in full swing, with bountiful crops of summer squash, okra, cucumbers, green tomatoes, basil, purple hull peas and more. All of it is available each Saturday at our stand at the Memphis Farmers Market.

And as much as we love a good summer tomato, the farm is much more than fresh veggies. Jetia Porter, one of 20 members of the current farm crew, says her experience on the farm has inspired her in countless ways.

"I love the fact that we learn about agriculture on a daily basis but also spend time finding ourselves as young women and becoming leaders in our community," Jetia says. "Learning about the great benefits natural produce can have on the human body really pushed me to want to continue to practice growing food from the earth and becoming more cautious of my health."

Jetia's farm inspiration is far from unique - this summer the farm has connected her and her fellow farm crew members with curious visitors, corporate sponsors, interns and volunteers.

The farm hosted its first pop-up event, dubbed Coffee and Crops, on July 17. Guests stopped by for a cup of coffee and the chance to check out the layout of the farm. While the girls on the Farm Crew were busy tending to beehives and testing soil samples in order to plan for fall crops, guests were treated to fresh cut zinnias and lots of information about the farm. Thanks to our friends at French Truck Coffee for donating the delicious hot java and pastry assortment.

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Farm Crew members learn about bees   Chante Jones and other crew members get busy     Soil samples help plan for fall crops

Throughout the summer we've enjoyed hosting visitors and showcasing the 9.5 acre, pesticide-free farm. A special "thank you" goes out to our corporate sponsors International Paper and AutoZone who sent representatives in June and July to spend time with the girls and learn more about our food sustainability programming in the Frayser community.

We also benefitted from a generous Day of Service thanks to 901nterns from FedEx, International Paper and AutoZone. This energetic group worked alongside the Farm Crew harvesting vegetables and flowers for the Memphis Farmers Market.

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Visitors from AutoZone tour the Youth Farm     A Farm Crew member shows off fresh flowers     901nterns getting ready for A Day of Service

Activities at the farm allow for connections that prove valuable to everyone involved. Take Abby Baskind, who has worked as a farm intern this summer and says her time at the farm has been one of the greatest experiences she's ever had.

"I've discovered that simply changing a girl's day by waking up early, showing up and guiding her, whether through a farm task or a short conversation about education or friendship, can generate a positive change that can go far beyond a day's program," Abby said. "Neither the girls nor I have much, if any, farming experience, yet we still get good produce to the market every week. Perhaps that's been my biggest takeaway - expertise is not a requirement. It's the goal."

It's ultimately about the girls, of course. Farm Crew member Chante' Jones says working at the farm inspires her to be courageous, strong, smart and bold.

"The thing I like about the Youth Farm is tha it's run by girls and it shows young women can be and do anything," Chante' says. "The farm benefits me and my community because it's locally grown food and we know what it takes to grow our own food."


Dora HarrisIt didn’t take leaders at  Girls Inc. of Memphis long to choose someone to guide and manage the agency’s plans for growth. As an alumna of Girls Club (Girls Inc. precursor) and a veteran of more than three decades of working at every facility and in administration, the clear choice was Dora Brown Harris.

In her new role as Director of Growth and Expansion, Dora is the "woman behind the curtain," focusing on growing and expanding the impact of Girls Inc. programming through in-school facilitation, primarily in South City (38126) and Frayser (38127).

Girls Inc. of Memphis' growth work got a boost recently when the Memphis affiliate was awarded a $500,000 grant from Girls Inc. national to be used to grow all our programs, with an emphasis on expanding services in Frayser and South City.

Right off the bat, it's worth letting Dora explain her longevity with the agency.

"Being at Girls Inc. was my foundation for everything," she said. "My family couldn't afford to send me to places like the ballet or on camping trips - cultural and life opportunities. Girls Inc. gave me those opportunities and it's my passion to make sure girls today have those opportunities."

Dora started at Girls Club at age 8, originally at the St. Thomas Center (in the old St. Thomas Catholic School on Trigg). After graduation from Carver High School in South Memphis, she worked part-time for the agency as a program specialist while attending classes at the University of Memphis.

She’s worked in some capacity at just about every physical space Girls Club/Girls Inc. has ever occupied. Assistant director then director at Lemoyne Gardens, roles at South Park Center, Frayser and LDT. She's seen it all.

Recently, she’s served as Director of Training and Curriculum for the entire local affiliate. “I really like planning curriculum,” she says, “and designing programs.”

Her years with the organization and experience from so many vantage points mean she knows all the schools in South City and Frayser that are targets for growing and expanding Girls Inc.’s impact.

President and CEO Lisa Moore, feels Dora is the perfect fit for this vital position. What Dora will drive, Lisa says, is a core part of what Girls Inc. of Memphis is all about.

“The words ‘You Grow Girl’ are painted on the side of our Youth Farm storage container, and they are a mantra we use to symbolize our commitment,” Lisa said. “Commitment to providing girls an environment that allows them to grow; to a culture that sustains growth and development of our professional staff; and to growing our organization in order to establish and sustain growth in the girls we serve with impact.”

The goal for the Girls Inc. national grant funds is to serve nearly 1,500 new girls over the next two years, with 85 percent of that growth being overseen by Dora in Frayser and South City.

“This grant is an acknowledgement from our national organization that we are a strong affiliate with a strong plan for significant growth,” Lisa said. “Our growth will be a combination of meeting girls where they are in schools and anchoring communities with facilities and center-based programming in 38111, 38107, 38126 and 38127.”

Even with the emphasis on Frayser and South City, Lisa says that the organization is growing capacity at all its sites.

Currently, Dora oversees school-based programming in 9 schools, currently serving 250 girls with 50 hours of Girls Inc. programming per year.

To ensure the quality of the programming both in schools and at centers, Dora is currently overseeing the annual Strong-Smart-Bold Outcome Survey. The goal is to administer the survey to 250 girls from across all Girls Inc. of Memphis programs.

“It came from national, but folks from Memphis had a hand in developing the survey,” Dora said. “It helps us find out about girls and where they are, and what programs are the most needed.”

Dora raised a daughter - Marneissa Brown - who was a Girls Inc. girl from age 6 through high school and now lives in North Carolina. Dora  just completed her undergraduate degree in business administration from LeMoyne Owen College and is working on an MBA in HR management and management leadership from Webster University.

Looking back, Dora is most amazed thinking about the fact that she’s influenced two or three generations in her years at Girls Inc. And what satisfies her the most is watching a girl she’s worked with for years graduate high school or college.

“I had one come up to me the other night at dinner. She said, ‘Miss Dora, I had so much fun in Girls Inc.’”

CL 2018 crowd shot

Thank you for making the 2018 Celebration Luncheon such a record-breaking success! 

Your attendance and enthusiastic support for our annual event on June 13 let each girl know that YOU are in her corner - and that she will win. Congratulations again to our award winners - both girls and women - listed below:
  • STRONG Award -Ja'Lin "Leo" Watts and Gina Sweat
  • SMART Award - Maya Morris and Leslie Gattas Coleman 
  • BOLD Award - Jada Powell and Yvonne Madlock
  • Girl of the Year - Samiya Winston
  • Woman of the Year - Gayle Rose
 Strong winners 2018     SMART winners 2018 
 Ja’Lin “Leo” Watts and Gina Sweat     Leslie Gattas Coleman and Maya Morris
 BOLD winners 2018     Girl and woman of the year 2018 
 Jada Powell and Yvonne Madlock     Samiya Winston and Gayle Rose
BOLD honoree Leo Watts got to the essence of the Girls Inc. Experience in her acceptance speech. "I came into the Girls Inc. youth farm crew looking for a check and came out a feminist, activist, with new friends and an all-around new person," she said. "I can surely say receiving the STRONG award is much appreciated but more importantly I am appreciative to have found my voice at Girls Inc." 

Our adult and girl award winners were so moved by your presence. We are excited to announce a 27% increase over last year's event which will allow us to dramatically increase the number of girls we can serve this year. Thank you for helping to secure the future of Girls Inc. of Memphis and our amazing girls.
If you weren't able to attend, or if you would like to show some more love, you TOTALLY still can! Show your support today for girls in the Mid-South and the work we do to inspire all of them to be strong, smart and bold - you can do so by clicking here!
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Leo headshotUntil the last year or so, Leo Watts didn’t consider herself much of an advocate. The 17-year-old junior at The Soulsville Charter School, who’s given name is Ja’Lin, says she was always too reserved for that.

“I’m socially shy,” she said, “and I get nervous in front of people.”

But she found her advocate’s voice as a member of the Girls Inc. of Memphis Youth Farm crew, which she joined last summer. It was there that she learned about a proposal to expand a construction-debris landfill in Frayser. It woke her up.

“The idea of as bunch of garbage next to a school and across from our farm, it struck a chord with me,” Leo says. “If it’s not O.K. to put it in your neighborhood, why would it be O.K. to put it in ours?”

Jada Powell, a junior at Ridgeway High School, also freed her inner advocate thanks to her involvement with Girls Inc.

"In Girls Inc., my confidence has definitely grown,” Jada says. "I’ve always been real outgoing. But Girls Inc. has taught me to speak my mind respectfully.”

Leo and Jada's advocacy is already bearing fruit. Thanks to countless concerned citizens from Frayser - including Leo and other Girls Inc. girls - the landfill proposal was defeated by a unanimous vote of the Memphis City Council on Jan. 8.

Thanks to Jada, Girls Inc. currently has a direct representative on the Girls Action Network, a national advisory and mobilizing group made up of young women’s from Girls Inc. affiliates across the country.

Both girls presented at the inaugural Bridge Builders Youth Action Summit in February, teaching other young people what they've learned as advocates for girls. And both took part - along with youth and adults from across the city - in the recent March for Our Lives. (Leo is quoted at the end of this Commercial Appeal account of the march.)

There’s no doubt that both girls are on fire to make a difference. And for both, Girls Inc. helped ignite that fire. Leo, a Chicago native who moved to Memphis at age 5, didn’t grow up in Girls Inc., but it's had a profound impact on her. She heard about the opportunity to be part of the farm crew from a school counselor.

“I wasn’t really looking forward to it, honestly, because of the heat and the bugs,” Leo said. “But we started doing things like volunteering at a homeless shelter and going to meetings about public issues.”

Being part of a group that helped defeat the proposed landfill, Leo said, made her feel proud. And she got to share that pride in a big way at the Bridge Builders Youth Action Summit held at BRIDGES in February. She, along with other farm crew members, presented the workshop “Girls Inc. Youth Farm Fights Landfill” multiple times to attendees from across the country.

Jada also presented multiple times at the Youth Summit, about her involvement in the Girls Action Network (GAN).

Her Girls Inc. connection stretches back farther. She started attending South Park center at age 5 and became involved with Eureka! at 13.

Jada was chosen to Jada headshotrepresent Girls Inc. of Memphis on the GAN last summer, a group of 10 girls narrowed down from countless nominations from 82 affiliates across the country. This is the inaugural year for the GAN and Memphis is well-represented - Girls Inc. of Memphis CEO Lisa Moore also was tapped to serve on the adult chort of the network.

The GAN is a year-long youth advocacy program that was created with the goal of assisting in the development of a Girls Inc. policy agenda and helping to mobilize grassroots action across the network. Participants meet regularly via video conference and discuss important issues like gun violence, barriers to girls, DACA and sexual harassment. The program culminates in an annual trip to Washington D.C. where girls meet with lawmakers.

“At Girls Inc., I saw a lot of people with positive outlooks, that had something going for themselves,” Jada said of her time at South Park and in Eureka. “I want that for myself.

She’s clearly excited by the prospect of meeting lawmakers in Washington.

“My mom says I’m an activist but I don’t always believe that,” Jada said. “A lot of times I feel like I’m in the shadows, like I’m not doing what you would expect an activist to do. But this is going to make my mom’s belief come true.”

Earlier this year, Leo attended the Women's March 2.0 conference and march in Nashville with other Girls Inc. girls. During the march, she encountered a counter-protestor with some strong anti-woman views. She calmly walked up and asked him to tell her more about where he was coming from.

“He referred to God a lot,” Leo said. “I told him ‘God accepts all in my book.’ I’m not sure he listened. But I made sure my opinions were heard."

And like Jada, Leo says her ability to stand up for her beliefs with respect was nurtured by Girls Inc.

“When I’m around Kelsey and the other adults at the farm, they’re positive and supportive and that makes me feel positive and supportive," Leo said. “When they say, ‘You can do it,’ I say, ‘I got this,’ and I’ll get up and say what I have to say.

“If it weren’t for their attitudes, I wouldn’t have done half these things I’ve done.”


I’ve always been good in school and loved being involved in Girls Inc. I participated in a collaborative program with Hatiloo Theatre and it was then I found my voice. I realized what I want to do…I want to act! Since having my eyes opened through this experience, I’ve been in 3 Hatiloo productions and 5 White Station High School productions. - Kelsie

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