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60 years helping girls become strong women

When Girls Inc. of Orange County started out six decades ago, the programming resembled home economics courses that focused on sewing, the techniques of proper housekeeping or throwing a successful dinner party.

Then known as the Harbor Area Girls Club, the organization reflected post-war 1950s America, but its goals changed along with the times and roles for American women.

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In 2014, K-12 girls participating in the Costa Mesa-based organization learn about science, economics, maintaining a healthy body image and the importance of a good credit history, said Girls Inc. CEO Lucy Santana-Ornelas.

"We don't discourage girls to be girls, but we also encourage them to use their voice, to be outspoken, to ask questions, to be inquisitive, to be good thinkers," she said. "It's about ensuring that they're finding their place."

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The organization, whose Anaheim Avenue youth center has been a downtown Costa Mesa staple since the late 1950s, is celebrating 60 years. At a birthday kickoff event Aug. 9, Councilwoman Wendy Leece delivered a city proclamation to Santana-Ornelas and board President Gianna Drake-Kerrison.

About 115 people attended the event, including Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa), school board trustee Katrina Foley and Santa Ana College President Erlinda J. Martinez.

Though it started in Newport-Mesa, Girls Inc. has since spread its reach, Santana-Ornelas said.

"We came from being a very small, community-based organization to now we're serving all of Orange County," she said. "Last year, we served 5,000 girls throughout Orange County."

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For years, Girls Inc. has also been guiding more women into career fields where, traditionally, they are outnumbered compared to men, such as science and mathematics, Santana-Ornelas said.

"We want girls to become self-sufficient young women," she said.

Santana-Ornelas, CEO of the nonprofit for 12 years, said she's been amazed to watch the progression of Girls Inc. participants, some of whom begin there very young. The organization estimates that it has served more than 70,000 Orange County girls in its 60-year history.

Girls Inc.'s 60th celebration continues Sept. 19 with the Ruby Slipper Ball, a "Wizard of Oz"-themed gala at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel.

For more information on the gala, contact Kaeli Benvenuto at (714) 597-8600, ext. 311, or email kbenvenuto@girlsinc-oc.org.

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