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Girls Inc. of Albany creates solid foundation for youths

Posted July 6

— Girls Inc. is a special place for girls and teens, one that fosters social inclusion and economic independence.

And on a day when the United States celebrates its birth, it's also a good time to note that girls and teens who attend Girls Inc. have their own Bill of Rights.

Executive director Wilenna McClain says the organization "is a special place where young girls can talk about their sexuality, health issues, bullying and being a girl."

Walking into the Girls Inc. facility in Albany, that Bill of Rights, designed to encourage girls to accept themselves, is prominently displayed.

The document touches on a number of areas, telling children and teens that they have the right to be themselves and to resist gender stereotypes; to express themselves with originality and enthusiasm; to take risks, strive freely and take pride in success; to appreciate and accept their bodies; to have self-confidence and be safe, and to prepare for interesting work and economic independence.

McClain has worked to help bring funding for programs that benefit her young charges. One pass-through grant of $14,000 is enabling the young women to participate in the Google Made with Code Project. She received a $1,500 pass-through grant that allows youngsters to participate in the After School Math Plus Program.

Girls Inc. also encourages economic independence. In addition to the Bill of Rights, those entering the building will notice a display of incentive dollars. The girls earn those dollars (it's not real currency) when demonstrating certain behavior, such as random acts of kindness, participation in activities and helping others.

McClain's students participate in multiple programs offered at Girls Inc., including the economic literacy, media literacy and operation smarts programs.

The economic literacy program teaches participants the significance of being financially independent. The girls also learn about specific economic concepts.

Rachael Fed, who is the instructor of the economic literacy program, was teaching girls how to operate a lemonade stand during a recent visit. Fed explained that it is imperative for youths to become economically literate.

"They need to know about money," she said. "That it is the foundation."

She explained that the lemonade stand is conducted through the kid entrepreneurship program, and "allows children to be more creative and expand their mindset. And it will also prepare them to be a small business owner one day."

The lemonade stand, Fed said, "excites the children because they consider it their business. They have a company name, a slogan, and they have their roles. With the lemonade stand, the children learn about money, budgeting and food safety. Everything it takes to run a business, we learned today."

The operation smarts program enables youths to take part in scientific and technological opportunities. When walking into the room, the motorized coloring robots the instructor allowed students to create quickly command attention.

Once turned on and placed on paper, the robot twists consistently, with its attached pens creating a pattern.

The instructor, Nicole Jones, said the participants built the robots weeks ago. The students are currently creating a 3-D model of Albany's Turtle Park, a project they decided to take a step further. In addition to re-creating the landscape, they are implementing changes that they feel need to be added to the park.

It's an exercise designed to open their minds to possibilities.

"We don't have a lot of women (in) engineering or working with computers," Jones said. "So making them think outside the box and making them think they have the same visions and empowerment men have will empower them to want to go into technological and scientific fields."

The media literacy program has posters about different forms of media outlets and an explanation of each one. The instructor used The Albany Herald as an example. Students participating in the exercise demonstrated an interest in news and politics.

Each student participating in the course was able to explain what media are and give specific examples of forms of media, including newspaper and radio. Students also were able to give their opinions on leaders, including President Donald Trump.

Bullying also is an issue tackled at Girls Inc., where students have created anti-bullying signs.

Asked what she's learned so far this summer, Adrian Daniels responded, "I learned how to stay away from sexually transmitted diseases. I also learned how to confront someone without having to be involved in situations, and that not only is the victim being hurt, but the bully is also."

She said the program also taught her to deal with criticism.

"The program has taught me how to not believe what everyone has to say about me," Adrian said. "Only what I say about myself goes, and I do not have to worry about what everyone else says."

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