Happy first-ever International Day of the Girl!
To celebrate, we interviewed Denese Lombardi, the Executive Director of Girls, Inc. of the Washington, DC Metro Area, a nonprofit organization that inspires girls to be strong, smart, and bold through life-changing programs and experiences that help them navigate gender, economic, and social barriers.
What inspires you to work with girls?
When I was 15 years old, I lost my Dad, who was a successful chemical engineer and the most wonderful Dad ever. It was the end of life as I knew it for our family. But I watched my Mom, who had only a high school education, and had never worked outside the home, enroll in college and earn her degree in journalism and public relations. She subsequently wrote and published a book on Native American philosophy and became editor of the Native American newspaper for the tribes in Connecticut, where we lived. I knew my Mom was special. She was talented and skilled and now suddenly thrown into a role as the sole breadwinner, she was determined to perfect her skills in order to make a good life for herself and her children. She did this despite her tragic loss at a time when society did not make it easy for a “woman alone” to navigate the landscape.
When I was introduced to Girls Inc. some years ago, I was taken by the mission and realized how personally it resonated with me. I had to smile as I realized that my Mother was the epitome of strong, smart and bold. The inspiration she provided as I grew up remains with me today. I have drawn on it many times in my own life. I know that girls and women are strong and that we can achieve whatever it is we are determined to accomplish. I have seen it in my own life and I see it every day in the hopeful faces of our girls. I hear it in their voices when they describe their goals and the future they see for themselves. With the right information, with access and opportunity, they – like my Mom, like women everywhere who have a story to tell – can overcome the glass ceiling, the sticky floor, the challenges life brings us. Through organizations like Girls Inc., girls can dream big dreams and develop the tools to help make those dreams come true. Girls learn that they are indeed strong, smart and bold – and they become women who are healthy, educated and independent!
Whether you’re a teacher in a busy and demanding environment, a parent with active, creative children, or someone who simply acknowledges that gender inequities exist, we can all support girls by creating intentional and compensatory moments in every day life, moments where girls can truly thrive.
Here are some great tips from the Girls, Inc. National Resource Center:
- Encourage: affirm their right to speak out; listen and learn from them about their issues and opinions; support them to channel their thoughts and feelings into positive actions.
- Empower: be an advisor rather than a director, allow them to take charge; ask questions that lead them to express their ideas and problem solve; encourage them to build a “sister” support network.
- Foster pride in girls, women & their achievements: Anchor girls’ experiences in the context of “herstory” and the achievements of girls and women across many time periods and cultures; introduce girls to women who have made and are making a difference in many fields and in many ways; help girls to identify and celebrate their “she-roes.”
- Articulate gender challenges: Help girls acknowledge gender challenges and pursue success in traditionally male-dominated areas; provide girls with sustainable opportunities to be leaders; avoid automatically deferring to boys in mixed-gender settings; help girls support each other and avoid pressure to compete for boys’ attention.
- Connect, support & defend girls’ communities: Help girls build community and maintain support and resilience in the face of challenge and adversity; help girls navigate criticism and self-doubt; help girls honor their connection to one another and value being there for each other for the long haul!
Why do you think Day of the Girl rocks?
When a girl becomes a productive woman, she improves the quality of life for her family and her community and the next generation benefits from her success. It stands to reason, if we want to be a healthy nation – a nation of leaders, supporting girls is an investment we should all be making.
Day of the Girl is a tremendous opportunity for us all to connect – to highlight, celebrate and advance opportunities for girls everywhere – here at home and across the globe. This is a movement that we hope will continue to bring about dialogue and action and level the playing field on issues of gender stereotypes, discrimination, and opportunity because girls really do rock!