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Teaching Girls to Be Smart and Strong

Times Staff Writer

Lucy Santana sees it every day: hundreds of young girls with little hope for the future and seemingly nowhere to turn.

She is the executive director of Girls Inc., an after-school and outreach program for preteen and teenage girls that reaches about 1,200 youngsters in Orange County each year. But Santana worries about the many who fall between the cracks.

“We wish we could reach more,” she said.

From its Costa Mesa office, Girls Inc. serves 14 elementary, middle and high schools with programs on topics such as career counseling, leadership development, math and science instruction and healthy and unhealthy relationships.

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Girls Inc. is aggressive in its mission to help girls become “strong, smart and bold,” Santana said.

The agency received a $15,000 grant from last year’s Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign. This holiday season, The Times is highlighting Southern California agencies helped by its annual fund-raising drive.

In their presentations at schools, Girls Inc. counselors try to get at-risk girls to interact with positive role models. They take the students to workplaces such as courthouses, where they talk with attorneys, judges and police officers.

The counselors also tackle difficult subjects, Santana said. “We need to address the realism of what’s going on out there with our teens,” she said.

“They are talking about sex, they are talking about drugs and they’re being exposed to [these things] in their schools, in the neighborhoods and through the media.”

Despite the long odds against reaching all who need their services, Santana said, the payoff is the many success stories the agency records -- such as that of the shy young woman who came to them as a high school freshman, newly arrived from Mexico and unable to speak much English.

She heard a Girls Inc. representative speak at her school and signed up for tutoring. Her progress was so dramatic, Santana said, that she was coaxed into speaking at a donors luncheon, where she described -- in fluent English -- the difference the organization had made in her life.

She is now a student at San Diego State University, Santana said, the first in her family to attend college.

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The Times Holiday Campaign, established in 2000, is part of the Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation. The McCormick Tribune Foundation matches the first $700,000 raised at 50 cents on the dollar.

Last year, the holiday appeal and matching funds from the foundation raised $653,000, which was granted to 56 charities serving Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

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HOW TO GIVE

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Donations (checks or money orders) supporting the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign should be sent to: L.A. Times Holiday Campaign, File #56986, Los Angeles, CA 90074-6986. Please do not send cash. Credit card donations can be made on the Web site: www.latimes.com/holidaycampaign.

All donations are tax-deductible. Contributions of $25 or more will be acknowledged in The Times, unless a donor requests otherwise. Acknowledgment cannot be guaranteed for donations received after Dec. 18. For more information about the Holiday Campaign, call (800) LATIMES, ext. 75771.


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