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Nov 9 - Dec 31, 2023


Girl Power

Nonprofit Girls Inc. envisions a generation of women who started shaping their own futures as kids.

By Celia Jimenez

Over 20 years ago, a group of moms wanted to give the next generation tools to empower themselves and succeed, inside and outside the classroom. They were fueled by an increasing teen pregnancy rate and a lack of resources at school. “[These women] really wanted to make a difference in the lives of other young women,” says Elizabeth Contreras, now the deputy director of what became Girls Inc.

They launched the all-volunteer effort with about a dozen girls at Alisal High School in 1999. In 2003, they formalized the project as a member of Girls, Inc., an international organization since 1864. Little by little it expanded to other regions of Monterey

County and beyond, into Watsonville and Hollister. Now, Girls Inc. of the Central Coast serves over 1,200 girls, ages 8 to 18, in 40 schools in the region.

“We are not here to tell them what’s right and what’s wrong,” Contreras says. The emphasis is instead on providing information so they can make their own choices.

Programs are still focused on the original organizing principles of empowering girls to chart their own future, focusing on an array of topics from mental and physical health to handling stress, career path planning, resume writing and more.

At the Friendly PEERsuasion program during the summer, participants learn communication skills, decision-making and how to handle peer pressure. A parent-daughter program invites elders—older siblings, parents, grandparents or other adult caregiv

ers—to a communication workshop.

Contreras has been with Girls Inc. since 2002 and has seen firsthand how girls involved in the program have flourished. Roxana Javier, a Girls Inc. program facilitator who participated in the programs herself, says she found her voice when she started attending. “I was super, super shy,” she says, but she found confidence in public speaking and networking.

Contreras says the work they do provides girls with skills they can use to build their future—starting with dreaming about what is possible, a skill that is especially important to share with girls from under-resourced communities. “If you don’t know how to get somewhere, then you’re not going to get where you want to go,” she says.