celebration crowd 2017

A heartfelt thank you goes out to everyone who supported our Celebration Luncheon!

Nearly 600 guests packed the Pipkin Building to celebrate our girl and women honorees, break bread under our “big top” and raise funds to help us continue in our mission to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold.

Our packed house raised more than $26,000 during our luncheon’s Strong, Smart and Bold investment challenge—a record-breaking total that will provide scholarships for 52 families for whom program fees are just out of reach.

This year’s Strong, Smart and Bold Award winners personify the Girls. Inc. mission, and their inspirational words personified how and why these women serve as examples of the strong, smart and bold women Girls Inc. girls strive to be.

Brooke Jones of FedEx, the Strong Award winner, encouraged us to honor our strength by acknowledging how we each successfully overcome challenges we face each day with inner strength and character. Smart Award winner Patricia C. Howard recently retired from her 50 years with Girls Inc. She reminded our girls that they are capable of attaining their dreams through hard work, determination, and taking advantage of opportunities before them. Author and philanthropist, Becky Wilson, the Bold Award winner, motivated us to take risks and boldly make a difference in our community by giving back in a meaningful way—values that Girls Inc. girls both learn and benefit from every day.     

In addition to our donors and honorees, our full hearts are owed to more than 60 volunteers, including corporate groups from Cummins, First Tennessee, International Paper, Medtronic, and Mass Mutual. Our full bellies are grateful to Central BBQ who provided our delicious lunch and Café Society who provided the sweet treat of cookies. 

Because of all of you—sponsors, volunteers, supports, and friends—we continue to expand our ability to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold. There’s still an opportunity to make a greater impact on Memphis girls. Make a gift that’s meaningful to you now.


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Sylvia martinez head shotIf not for Girls Inc., Sylvia Martinez might never have seen snow first-hand, flown in an airplane or hiked in Southeast Asia. And it's likely she wouldn't have had the chance to become the new Vice President of Programs for Girls Inc. of Memphis

"To this day, my mom credits Girls Inc. with giving me wings," Sylvia says. "Girls Inc. gave me my first ride on a plane, my first ID and my first snow. I'm so grateful for those opportunities."

That gratitude and Sylvia's life experiences make her an ideal addition to the Girls Inc. of Memphis leadership team. She left a position as Program Director for Girls Inc. of Greater Los Angeles to join our team. But her Girls Inc. story goes back much further.

Sylvia was born in California and lived in Mexico from ages 2 to 9. After her family moved back to the Santa Barbara area, she was bullied for not speaking English. With strength, determination and the help of a fourth-grade teacher she moved past all that and was eligible for honors classes by sixth grade.

She discovered Girls Inc. by accident - she was told the Girls Inc. center in Carpinteria would let her use the gym to practice basketball. And that's when she got her first taste of the Girls Inc. Experience.

"I found myself at Girls Inc. of Carpinteria," Sylvia said. "It allowed me to see myself through someone else's eyes."

Gaining a different perspective was particularly important, Sylvia says, because she grew up in a very traditional household. From her immigrant parents she learned hard work, resourcefulness and resilience. But their awareness of possibilities was limited.

"Basically, it's 'If you don't leave the house married, you just stay there," she said. "Girls Inc. helped me explain things to my parents. To say, 'I want to be in this program.' Pretty soon, Girls Inc. had my mom's seal of approval."

At Girls Inc., she worked with mentors from Island Magazine to write and edit a magazine for girls by girls. She learned about college admissions and scholarships. In short, she learned to spread her wings.

"Through Girls Inc., I was also able to travel to Washington D.C. 'If I can go on this trip,' I thought, 'I can go to college, move out, and make it on my own.' That first airplane trip was my first step towards independence. It opened my eyes to a world of possibilities. Where else can I go? What else can I do?"

Quite a lot, it turns out. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Spanish from University of California,Santa Barbara. She taught language arts and reading to kids with autism spectrum disorder and did one-on-one and group tutoring in Spanish, math and science. She also managed special projects for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles and helped create and run that agency's successful Women in Entertainment mentoring program.

Along the way, she earned a Master's in Psychology from the University of Phoenix, took time off to spend time with her family and spent several months hiking in Southeast Asia. The thread tying it all together was Sylvia's connection with Girls Inc. - and it’s ultimately what brought her here to Memphis.

"At one point I thought I was going to be a lawyer because they make lots of money," Sylvia said. "But Girls Inc. allowed me to see other possibilities. I work with youth because I am so passionate - because I had someone in my corner - and I want to be that person for other girls. I want every girl to have those opportunities for themselves. All it takes is having someone in your corner."

celebration evite 2017Each year, Girls Inc. of Memphis gathers with friends and family to honor local women. They're women who inspire Mid-South girls  - and all of us, as well - to stand on their own two feet and fight for a positive future – to be strong, smart and bold.

Join us on Wednesday, June 14, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Pipkin Building on Tiger Lane for lunch and to pay tribute to these exceptional women and the girls they inspire.

“We're so proud of these local women who are leading the way in Memphis," said Lisa Moore, President and CEO of Girls Inc. Memphis. “They are exceptional positive role models for girls and women of any age and in any city.”


Brooke Jones, a Girls Inc. alumnus and senior engineer in the Product Movement and Engineering department at FedEx Express, will receive the STRONG award, which celebrates women who have exhibited a creative approach in building a lifestyle that focuses on healthy choices and/or have provided the tools and motivation for others to make the changes they need to take charge of their health and wellness.


Patricia Howard, former President/CEO of Girls Inc. of Memphis, will receive the SMART award, which celebrates women who have achieved significant academic success in their chosen field and/or have assisted others in reaching their academic goals – women who have achieved their personal, educational and career goals and are economically independent.


Becky Wilson - a philanthropist, writer, photographer and founder of the Bridge Builders program - will receive the BOLD award, which celebrates women who have broken barriers and been outspoken in their quest to improve our community – women who personify “take charge” attitudes and exhibit resiliency and perseverance in all they do.


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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."


I was very shy and didn’t speak to anyone or interact with others much. I love to read, have natural hair, have been called weird. I came to Girls Inc. and because I was accepted the way I am, I came out of my shell. I tried new things, I have found my voice. - Rahni

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