Girl power at Girls Inc.

Photo by Tracy Wright

Self-cutting, low self-esteem, poor body image -these are just a few examples of issues girls who attend Girls Inc. might have.

Brianna Thorne, 18, is an alumnus of the Girls Inc. program.

She started out when it was suggested by her principal and teacher at Gandatsetiagon Public School Pickering in Grade 8. She was hesitant to join the group as she was a tomboy and did not hang out with girls.

“I was scared to be in a room with other girls,” she says, adding, “I eventually warmed up.”

“Before Girls Inc. I was very self-conscious. I didn’t have any friends and I had low self-esteem.”

She says she learned to accept herself for who she is.

Thorne went on to become a volunteer and then later a camp counsellor at Girls Inc. She currently attends York University and is studying psychology.

Girls Inc. is a non-profit U.S.- based organization which started in 1864.

Its mission is to empower girls and their motto encourages girls to be strong, smart and bold. The group was originally part of the Big Sister movement, which was a program pairing women in a mentor-style relationship with younger girls.

After operating as a program within Big Sisters, Girls Inc. Durham was created in 2002 following the amalgamation of Big Sisters with Big Brothers.

The plan was to continue programming specifically for girls. A grant was received from Ontario Trillium Foundation in 2004. Girls Inc. used that funding to open two other locations in Durham –  south Oshawa and Pickering.

They also put additional programs in place, such as the Girls Inc. Operation SMART program. In 2005, they started the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program (CPNP) otherwise known as Food 4 Thought.

Then in 2006, Girls Inc. day camp was initiated for girls aged six to 12. This camp covers all eight programs provided by Girls Inc.

Tracey McCanell, director of programming says, “everyday, Girls Inc. puts our mission into practice through the Girls Inc. Experience, which equips girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers and grow into healthy, educated, and independent adults.”

Girls Inc. was one of the first affiliates in Canada to receive the Standard of Excellence Award. This international award recognizes an organization that goes beyond standard practices and achieves excellence in programming, marketing, governance, advocacy and fund development.

“We want our girls to have a positive experience,” says Emma Conner, former Girls Inc. community development manager. “Learn and grow. And become the best version of themselves.”

They cater to a lot of girls and young women from age six to 18.

“We are trying to empower our girls and help to change society so when girls go out into the world they’re met with opportunities instead of barriers. Also, met with support instead of judgment, there’s a lot of work left to be done,” says Conner.

Not all girls who come to Girls Inc. want to hear what is being said. Some come at their parents’ suggestion. However, they do provide mentor role models to work with them.

“We genuinely believe that if you have someone is in your corner telling you that you are worth it. You  deserve to be heard. You are smart, you’re strong and you are bold. You deserve opportunities. Then you’re going to start to believe it yourself,” says Conner.

“The essential elements and the foundational Girls Inc. Experience have been developed to impact girls, their families and society,” says McCannell.

Thorne says the encounter has helped her build herself up and have healthier relationships. “[Girls Inc.] had a really, really big impact on my life” says Thorne. “It will change you and help you grow in so many ways.”