Julie Wright Short has seen many changes in her 15 years with Girls Inc., a national non-profit organization that locally is the only single-sex, facility-based provider of educational programs.
The biggest change the executive director has noticed through the years is that the needs of the girls have changed. At first, focusing solely on education was easier, but now, economics are addressed as well.
“We’ve found that we can best minister to a girl when she’s not worried about the needs of her family,” Short said. Girls Inc. has a clothes closet, food pantry and parenting classes available to its members. “We’re all about the girls, but their needs are best met when their parent’s needs are met.”
Technology has also changed the educational programs. One class teaches girls how to build a computer. And computers that were originally used for just games now incorporate instruction for STEM classes.
“Around age 12, girls start to lose interest in science and math,” Short said. “There’s something to be said for girls who are doing a science project in a girl-only environment where they don’t worry about their hair.”
On an average day, about a hundred girls between the ages of 5 and 18 will come into the building, between 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. Five vans pick up girls from every school within Kingsport (except one, because of construction issues) and Sullivan County. Students get a nutritional snack before the educational programs begin. Girls can pick between classes like sewing, literacy, cooking, college preparedness, car maintenance and cultural art.
“They’re all educational, but some focus more on life skills,” Short said.
The girls even participate in sports leagues through Girls Inc. that include flag football, soccer and volleyball.
“Sports teach another life skill, and the physical component is important,” Short said. “We’ve lost something in society. A lot of people will disagree with me, but we aren’t all winners. We can’t always win, and when we don’t, we have to learn to lose graciously.”
Girls Inc.’s mission is to inspire all girls to become strong, smart and bold. And teaching life lessons like accountability, responsibility and self-reliance goes with that.
“The same lessons I teach my daughters, I impart to these girls,” she said. “That they are special and loved. And there are no limits. They should never be limited by their circumstances. I love my husband, but I tell the girls you should never have to depend on a man. You make your own way.”
Girls Inc. is backed by a 22-member board of directors who Short said she can rely on to drive a van if she needed them to. About a dozen regular volunteers work in the center along with the staff of 10 employees. Short said Girls Inc. couldn’t do what it does without the support of the United Way of Greater Kingsport, which supplies half of its operating budget.
“Everything else prepared me for this,” she said of her background, which includes degrees in criminal justice and counseling along with experience as an interim teacher and mother. “This is my calling.”
For more information about Girls Inc. or to volunteer, call 423-247-2321 or visit the Girls Inc. of Kingsport Facebook page. Girls Inc. is located at 1100 Girls Place in Kingsport.