80 years of helping girls become strong, smart and bold
Fort Smith’s Girls Inc. celebrates 80 years with
a reunion and new Friends of Girls Inc. group
Life lessons, athletics, art, scholarship – and lots and lots of fun – have been happening at Fort Smith’s Girls, Inc., for 80 years. On April 26, a celebration and reunion will observe the positive force that this organization, originally called the Fort Smith Girls Club, has been for eight decades.
The celebration will be held at the Nancy Orr Center, named in 1970 for one of the organization’s most significant supporters for the second half of its lifetime. The club was originally formed in 1934.
At that time, the club focused on serving “underprivileged” girls during the Depression and women volunteered to teach girls social and housewifely skills. Through the years, the organization has grown to meet the changing challenges presented to all school-aged girls. Today, it recognizes no limitations – girls, and women – can do anything!
“One of the things we want everyone to know is that now, we serve all girls,”?said Amanda Daniels, executive director of the club. “No matter where you come from, where you grew up, one-parent or two-parent household, the color of your skin, girls are always at some point in their life going to have the same issues. The programs that we do help girls with those universal issues and teach them to support each other. Over the years, Girls Inc. always has the same mission, but we change the programs to serve the girls’ needs of today.”
Former director Iris Breed Jones agrees. In her 25 years at the club, 1977- 2002, empowerment and removal of barriers for girls was a focus.
“We knew that math and science were just as relevant to girls as to boys. We had a S.M.A.R.T. program - science, math and relevant technology. We got program grants to build computer labs and had special teachers just to teach that.”
“And we’re doing a STEM program right now, after school,” Daniels reinforced. “We do a lot of education programs and girls love it.”
Although Girls Inc. consolidated its programs at the Nancy Orr Center on Old Greenwood Road and closed operations at their first permanent home, the 1942 Belle Grove Center, Daniels said more girls are going to be served in the future through on-site programs presented by Girls Inc. staff at local schools or youth facilities through mini-camps. Daniels said the club also has a five-year plan examining building a new, second facility.
The club served 406 girls last summer, its busiest season, Daniels said. With a daily capacity of about 300, the overage was accounted for by their flexibility, when some girls attended while others were away. The after-school program has about 180 members daily. The center has a staff of five full time and adds from 18-20 part-time counselors in summer.
During the April 26 celebration and reunion, the benefits of Girls Inc.’s experiences and opportunities will be seen in former members who attend.
Girls Inc. scholarship winner Talicia Richardson will speak about her education at Spelman College and the University of Arkansas and how Girls Inc. programs and scholarships helped her along the way.
Another speaker, Morgan Kremers, won local and national Girls Inc. scholarships that helped her attend Oklahoma State University and Northeastern State University. She now teaches at Fairview Elementary.
Through United Way support and with the help of dedicated donors and volunteers, Girls Inc. of Fort Smith is going strong and headed, as always, toward the future.
Everyone who ever attended, worked, volunteered or coached at Girls Inc. is invited to the 2 p.m. celebration April 26 to see girls who attend today performing and enjoy a giant 80th birthday cake and refreshments. A glimpse of the organization’s bright future also will be presented. Girls Inc. Nancy Orr Center, 1415 Old Greenwood Road, Fort Smith.