by: emily faber, summer creator
At the Girls Inc. Youth Farm, summer harvest is in full bloom - at their booth at the Downtown Farmer’s Market, you can find fresh spinach, crisp cucumbers, flavorful basil, okra, sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and even flowers. It is not just produce that has been growing with Girls Inc., however; Jameka Hayes and Kenya Ghanor explain that Girls Inc. has been a part of their lives since they were six and eight years old, serving as an invaluable source of mentorship and community. Jameka is now a junior Biomedical Engineer major at the University of Memphis and currently volunteers with Girls Inc., and Kenya is the Programming Manager at the Girls Inc. Youth Farm, the nation’s only girls-run youth farm.
Girls Inc. of Memphis, founded in 1946, is a local chapter of the Girls Inc., the national organization which promotes the development of girls through focusing on culturing ‘pro-girl environments,’ programming, and mentorship to increase opportunities and rights for all girls. Girls Inc. inspires all girls to become strong, smart, and bold. The Youth Farm is one of their programs aimed at this mission, hiring girls to work on their 9.5 acre plot in Frayser and develop leadership skills and civic training.
“A pro-girl environment means that we absolutely believe in every girls’ innate strengths and ability and providing a nurturing environment for those innate strengths and abilities. We have staff that believes in the gifts, talents, and strengths of girls,” said Lisa Moore, President and CEO of Girls Inc. Memphis.
Both Kenya and Jameka joined Girls Inc. from a young age. Since there was a Girls Inc. location in Jameka’s neighborhood, she and her cousins were able to visit often. Jameka says that, “Growing up, I was always at Girls Inc.”
Both Jameka and Kenya stress that the sisterhood they found at Girls Inc. was a powerful force in their lives.
“A lot of the stuff that I went through - those girls were there every step of the way,” said Jameka. “We may be miles apart, but once we get together we do not miss a beat.” Jameka and Kenya laugh as they recall the sleepovers and lock-ins held at Girls Inc., in which they would host karaoke, watch movies, and paint their nails.
In addition to cultivating sisterhood, Girls Inc. empowers all facets of girls’ lives. Girls Inc. programming focuses on its ‘Bill of Rights,’ which includes points such as the right to accepting and appreciating one’s body, having confidence in oneself and being safe in the world, and preparing for interesting work and economic independence.
Girls Inc. also works to increase girls’ access to Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) related fields through the Eureka Program, a 5-year program offered to girls ages 12 to 18. Jameka was stronger in reading comprehension than mathematics, so her mother signed her up for the Eureka program to develop those skills. “Through Girls Inc., I was able to find my passion for bioengineering and stick with STEM,” said Jameka. She now has dreams of making prosthetics or becoming a doctor.
For Kenya, her interest in digital art stemmed from a Girls Inc. program in which the girls created self-portraits on the computer. After her portrait won first place, Kenya’s art piece hung in the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. “That’s what really sparked my passion for art. And ever since then, I’ve never stopped painting,” said Kenya. “I never knew that was something I’d be interested in until Girls Inc. helped me unlock a gift I didn’t know I had.”
After graduating high school, Kenya pursued a career in education and taught for a few years before leaving the education sector and returning to Girls Inc.
“One of the reasons I stepped away from the classroom was because I felt that the kids needed another component that we don’t really have in the school system. What we instill in them here is something they tiptoe around in school. This organization caters to all those gaps, all of those missing pieces,” said Kenya. “Girls get that academic piece at school, and then Girls Inc. makes them smarter.”
Jameka emphasized the real-world skills that Girls Inc. instilled in her. “School gives you the basics, but a lot of what I know is from Girls Inc. The organization prepared me for what the real world has for me - how people will view me as an African American woman and the fact that I’m going into a major that is predominantly Caucasian male. Girls Inc. prepared me to toughen my skin and give me the confidence to persevere.”
Jameka and Kenya emphasize that Girls Inc. can be a life-changing resource to those who embrace it, especially regarding mentorship and scholarships available.
You can support the growth of Girls Inc. by visiting their booth at the Memphis Farmers Market downtown on Saturdays as well as their Frayser Farm Stand on Fridays.
“The organization is really true to its mission, inspiring girls to be strong, smart, and bold. We all say the girls come to us that way, and they do, but at the same time I do feel I am stronger because of the organization,” said Kenya. “I do feel stronger and bolder.”