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Girls Inc. marks 'The Big 5-0'

Katherine Scoggins • Dec 8, 2015 at 4:30 PM

Fifty years ago, The Girls Club of Kingsport met in a large white house located at 1102 Mill Street under the direction of Betty Newman Iverson. At the time, Girls Clubs had as their focus "to prepare girls to be better wives and mothers." To that end, the domestic arts - cooking, sewing and household management - were stressed.

Over the next few decades, the Girls Clubs underwent major changes; growing into a national, then international association - marked by the name change in 1991 to Girls Incorporated: Strong, Smart and Bold. From that point on, education, wellness and an holistic approach to growing up were emphasized, while life skills, such as sewing, cooking, nutrition, arts and heritage were incorporated as "teaching moments."

History has it that a young girl in a focus group told the organization that the new name should be Girls Incorporated, because "growing up is serious business." It is a slogan that Girls Incorporated takes very seriously.

Girls Inc. of Kingsport was also undergoing major changes within its organization. A large new building, equipped with classrooms and offices, a playground, fields for various sports, a gym and kitchen, was built. Additional staff was added for classroom and off-site instruction, along with transportation and security. The land was given to Girls Inc. of Kingsport by Mac Houkom, while funding for the new site was kicked off by the local chapter of Business & Professional Women. The remaining monies were raised by the community and United Fund. The building was dedicated debt-free.

A name change, the dramatic shift in purpose, and a beautiful new facility all helped raise awareness and bring attention to the "new" look of Girls Incorporated, but there is much more to the success of the local agency.

"From day one, the directors and staff have had vision, outstanding business sense, and dedication," says Julie Wright Short, the current president and CEO of Girls Inc. of Kingsport. "But not just the employees: we have been very fortunate to have strong board leadership over the years and high expectations from staff, volunteers and the board. It has been decades of work by many, many individuals and groups, all focused on excellence and success for the future."

The success of the agency is apparent as one enters the building and sees the "trophy case" filled with plaques Girls Inc. of Kingsport has been awarded over the years.

"The awards are due to the hard work of everyone, not just the executive director," says Wright Short. "Betty Iverson took the concept of the Girls Club and made it a success; Brenda White-Wright exposed so many, many people to what we do in Kingsport's agency; Nada Weekly kept our organization and facility afloat during a terrible recession; and Lana Moore, while not an executive director, served on staff during the late 90s and early 2000s as program director."

While Wright Short has not finished her tenure, the Girls Inc. Affiliate of the Year Award for the Southeastern United States, Expansion Award and Outstanding Girl awards in that trophy case are certainly a result of her leadership skills, hard work and genuine love of the girls she serves.

Chyna Robinson is a 14-year-old student at Dobyns-Bennett High School and a current participant at Girls Inc. of Kingsport.

Talking with her, one can not help but be drawn to her naturally outgoing, bubbly personality. Although she's involved in many activities at Girls Inc., she says her favorite is the Ambassador's Club, a group of older girls who mentor fourth- and fifth-grade girls, setting a good example and encouraging them. Most of all, though, she says they listen. A great believer that "every child has potential," Chyna loves working with young children and hopes to one day work with them on a professional level. She has found that her experience working with the younger girls has taught her patience, good communication skills, and the importance of accountability.

Chyna is a wonderful advocate for Girls Inc., possibly because she has some history on her side: both her mother and grandmother attended Girls Inc.

Strong, Smart and Bold ... generation after generation.

To learn more about the programs or how you can support the Girls Inc. of Kingsport effort, visit www.girlsincofkingsport.org, Girls Inc. of Kingsport on Facebook, or call 423-247-2321.

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