The COVID-19 pandemic has had an irrevocable impact on the world and in our local communities. One of the most radical shifts for schools and youth development organizations has been educating and supporting young people virtually. This comes at a time when girls’ social and emotional wellness is at even greater risk as they struggle to cope in these unprecedented times. Affiliates across the Girls Inc. network are stepping up and responding to the challenge. They have moved programming online, with a focus on sustaining community and connection, offering engaging and meaningful experiences for girls, and supporting girls’ health, academic, and life skills development.
In providing virtual programming, one of the first areas to address is accessibility. For some affiliates, programming has been reduced by up to 50 percent due to barriers keeping girls from accessing the internet. Many of these affiliates are working with local partners and schools to get tablets, computers, or phones in girls’ hands. Additionally, not every affiliate is equally equipped to implement virtual learning due to resources and staff capacity. To date, about 15 percent of affiliates are offering synchronist programming, which is real-time, facilitated programming. The vast majority are delivering programming on social media platforms with staff available through video, calls, and texts. Outside of accessibility and technology hurdles, Girls Inc. is working to address a key question at the heart of our mission: how do we maintain the Girls Inc. experience virtually?
We know it is the powerful combination of long-lasting mentoring relationships and proven programming in a safe, pro-girl environment that helps girls to thrive. To answer this question, Girls Inc. is harnessing our strengths and bridging the gaps that exist in delivering each element of the Girls Inc. experience.
The power of building relationships with girls over the years has equipped staff to meet the unique needs of girls at this time. Staff know the girls. They are familiar with girls’ lives at home and their family situations. They know the areas where girls struggle and the areas where they feel most confident. Staff are calling, texting and checking in to see how girls and their families are doing. The number of affiliates hosting virtual mentoring sessions grows by the day. Mentors are showing girls that they are not alone in dealing with the challenges they’re facing.
“I really appreciate them being available for girls, at any time, for help or assistance we may need. In addition to just checking in on me, we talked about my future decisions, since I will be graduating in a few months and will need to commit to a college.” – Joleena, Girls Inc. of Greater Indianapolis
“[My mentor] told me to keep in touch and to let her know if my family or I need anything. While this may seem like a small gesture, it truly meant the world to me and brought me a lot of joy on a difficult day.” –Delaney, Girls Inc. of Upper Canada
The speed with which virtual academies and online learning platforms are going up across the Girls Inc. network has been incredible. Affiliates have spent untold hours researching the best online platforms and collaborating with school partners to ensure girls are successfully engaging in virtual lessons. Some affiliates like New York City continue to deliver signature programs addressing healthy mind and body, healthy sexuality, and media literacy. Other affiliates are posting STEM videos, facilitating yoga and cooking activities, hosting Facebook Live “read-alongs,” posting daily “strong, smart and bold” activities, and offering virtual homework help and tutoring.
“Our decision to jump into this online platform came from working with our board of trustees and staff members. We started with the idea of making some short videos and grew from there when a board member asked if daily online programming would be a possibility. I am extremely proud of my team of staff members that are joining me in taking on this challenge.” – Jessica Johnstone Darling, Executive Director, Girls Inc. of Taunton
“Girls can follow along on their cellphones to see YouTube videos, even if they can’t take part in classes. We’re providing different activities for every age group to do at home, on different days. We’re trying to provide as many online resources as possible for the girls and their parents during the pandemic.” -Connie Hill, President & CEO, Girls Inc. of Central Alabama
The Girls Inc. environment is a critical piece of supporting and equipping girls. With schools and Girls Inc. centers closed, staff are redefining what it means to provide girls with safe, virtual spaces to learn and be well; spaces that are pro-girl, supportive and inspiring. While there are clear drawbacks to not being able to connect in-person, affiliates remain committed to doing what they can to translate Girls Inc. philosophies into this current, digitally-connected environment. Some of these ideals include, centering girls in the activities and engaging them as full participants, taking into account girls’ emotional needs, cultivating girl agency and leadership, and focusing on relationships to create meaningful connections.
“We’re doing all we can for the girls we serve. They have the opportunity to stay connected and stay supported during what may be an overwhelming for many. Girls are able to share their thoughts regarding this time, continue to learn, have a little fun, and express themselves in a safe space. Our girls have already let us know they appreciate the sense of community and support our sessions offer.” -Renee Flagler, President and CEO, Girls Inc. of Long Island
“In a time when social distancing is becoming more and more important, we recognize the urgent need to maintain a sense of community, support, and love for our girls, who, naturally, will be feeling added anxiety and stress. And so our staff is being strong, smart and bold, investigating new ways to deliver creative, safe, and engaging learning to girls.” -Suzanne Parker, Executive Director, Girls Inc. of the Valley
Our commitment remains
Change and transition are nothing new for Girls Inc. Over the last century, we have been responsive to the needs of girls and the times in which they live. While more than half of girls today receive Girls Inc. programming in schools, that was not always the case. Moving from center-based learning to the classroom presented challenges. But it has also offered new opportunities to connect with new girls in new ways. In the midst of the upheaval and difficulty we currently face, Girls Inc. is doing the very assessing and testing necessary to understand the potential of virtual learning as a new growth opportunity. Now and in the future, our commitment will remain providing girls with the best possible support to reach their full potential.