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Now a Biochemistry major, Rosa Romero said she was curious the moment she watched Girls Inc. set up in her neighborhood.
She decided to check out the organization, and soon encouraged her neighbors to join. Young women who were shy and quiet, gained the courage to ask questions, work toward their highest aspirations and succeed among a group of now confident, supportive friends.
Rosa’s experience was a ripple effect, touching the lives of the young women around her and impacting the community as a whole.
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For more than 40 years, Girls Inc. of San Diego County has been working to inspire other young women by providing strong role models, meaningful, research-based programming and a support system that encourages young women to be strong, smart and bold.
The aim is to lift up disadvantaged girls, inspiring them to explore their potential and in turn, break down the barriers set up against women in various career fields, elevating and inspiring the world.
Each year, Girls Inc. of San Diego County helps an average of 300 disadvantaged girls. Programs are currently based in the communities of Poway, Vista, Escondido and Oceanside. Compared to county averages, these areas have higher rates of teen pregnancy and lower high school graduation rates.
The organization sets up anywhere they can to reach young women: at middle schools, high schools, community centers and activity rooms.
The mission of encouraging girls to be strong, smart and bold is holistic and wide-reaching, Girls Inc. President Tracey Saenz said, because of its pinpoint focus on so many important subjects for women.
“It’s everything from physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, to money management, career skills, relationship management and more,” Saenz said.
At Girls Inc. young women can attend nine cost-free 12-week-long programs, ranging from economic literacy, and hands-on science, technology, engineering and mathematics sessions to self defense, leadership skills, early pregnancy prevention, emotional wellbeing, relationship management and more. Last year, girls in the program made progress toward college acceptance, increased STEM career aspirations, and connected with female STEM mentors.
It’s what girls need in a time of increased peer pressure, cyberspace bullies, make-up and media campaigns targeted to a pre-teen audience and continual economic and social barriers. Girls Inc. participants receive the tools that they need to become healthy, educated and independent women. And it’s all made possible through donations.
The majority of the young women Girls Inc. helps come from families with an annual income of $25,000 or less. Through a partnership with San Diego Gas & Electric, the organization gives first generation students the opportunity to explore STEM subjects and careers. This support empowers girls to succeed in high school, go on to college and to a career of their choice. Currently, nearly half of the girls reached through the programming are between the ages of 12 and 14, and 75 percent of Girls Inc. participants are Latinas.
Romero said before Girls Inc. came into her community, she hadn’t been considering going to college. The application process was daunting; but all that changed.
“I went to a women’s career program, and a businesswoman came to speak to us,” Romero said. “She said there aren’t many women in business. She told us, ‘think about what you wanted to do as a kid and try to do that in the future.’ It reminded me that I really loved science.”
Romero was able to apply for financial aid and several colleges of her choosing with help from her Girls Inc. mentors. Now she’s working toward a biochemistry degree at a local four-year university.
“If you don’t know how to do something, you need to find the support,” she said. “Girls Inc. taught me to have confidence in myself, and confidence in the future.”
Now a Girls Inc. graduate, Romero shares that confidence with her community as a mentor for younger Girls Inc. members. She’s spoken at several events, sharing her journey toward higher education and the support she found at Girls Inc. all along the way.
It’s the same confidence that Girls Inc. strives for all young girls to have when they look in the mirror; raising their hands, their heads, and the bar for women worldwide.