From “Donny” DonDero, National Executive Director, 1963 –1974
My sensible little mother used to say to me, “You've got to learn something that will earn you a living.” I guess that was different for the times, but my mother knew me. She knew that I was going to work at something, and she wanted me to work at something that paid.
Not too long out of Boston University, I got my first job in fundraising. And that's where I stayed, working in fundraising and public relations in New York City. It was a new account every three or four weeks: the Museum of Modern Art, Carnegie Hall, the Memorial Cancer Center, the Museum of Natural History. Well, you name it in New York, and I had worked there.
I decided that I would like to have a permanent job, to get in the business of running an organization and making it work. The great thing about Girls Incorporated was the tremendous challenge it presented — to make life better for the girls we served.
We were living in a world of accelerating change and social ferment, of population explosion and juvenile delinquency. Diminished family authority, breakdown in discipline, evasion of moral values; and — of increasing incidence — rejection of society by young adults. Boys and girls were equally vulnerable to the day's threats, but the effects of involvement by girls were deeper and more lasting. Our nation's girls needed, as never before, opportunities for development.
But in cities and communities across the nation, there were thousands of girls who were not reached by any youth group at all. The national organization received hundreds of requests for help from towns and cities across the country. Most poignant were the letters from girls themselves, pencil-written on lined paper. One letter, signed by 43 girls read: “Us [sic] girls would like you to do something for us. We would like you to open a Girls Club. The reason for this is because we are always getting in troble [sic] because we have no place to play. We try to play ball in back of the police station, but the men chase us away. Us [sic] girls don't want to stay up in our houses like hermits. Please do something about this.”
What made Girls Incorporated so special was that there had to be a roof — a physical center that was open every day. And there had to be a paid executive director in every local affiliate. Having the same person there all the time made such a difference in confidence on the part of the kids because they knew they really had a friend there every day after school.
But starting these centers took a lot of money. I saw immediately that there was nothing wrong with the organization except lack of funds. It had a wonderful strong board, strong women. And luckily, they realized that they needed professional help raising money.
Actually, the board was fairly wealthy, but it hadn't occurred to them that it would be a good idea to put some money into the organization, if they believed in it. I think I helped make them believe in it.
Two of the most exciting events were the gifts of $1 million dollars from Lila and DeWitt Wallace, and the donation of antiques Mrs. Giles Whiting bequeathed, which netted the organization $480,000. By the time I retired, the number of local affiliates and members had more than doubled. Grants and contributions had nearly tripled. I never did so much in my life.
I look back very happily on my time leading Girls Incorporated, and I think the organization today is marvelous. It used to be mostly home-oriented — cooking, sewing and washing. Fortunately — because I think it was important to move with the times — it has become more of a socially progressive organization. The emphasis really has changed.