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Girls Inc. empowers education of young women, bridges digital divide amid pandemic

Photo via Getty Images

BY BETH DEDMAN

Girls Inc. of New York City is continuing its initiative to cultivate brilliant and healthy minds in young women during the COVID-19 pandemic by adapting its programming to virtual learning.

Programs include using hands-on experience to teach middle school-, high school- and college-aged girls from impoverished communities financial literacy, healthy sexuality, big data and mental and physical health and wellness. 

“Our vision for our program is that we can reach girls,” said Pamela Maraldo, CEO of Girls Inc. of NYC. “We are going to serve 10,000 girls this year. We want these girls to be independent, successful and run their own businesses. So we are teaching them skills that they are not going to learn in school.”

Some of the initiatives include Generation Giga Girl, a program focused on data analytics for girls in grades 10-12, and Mind Body Matters, a program that focuses on health and handling stress through community support. Girls Inc. also offers one-on-one sessions to female students in the schools that Girls Inc. of NYC is located within. Over 3,000 young girls, particularly college students, have access to these health check-ins, now digitally. 

Girls Inc. wants to equip its participants to handle stressful situations in their home lives, which may have already been turbulent before the pandemic exacerbated fears and family tensions.

When they first recognized the possibility of shutdowns because of the outbreak, Girls Inc. educators immediately began training for digital teaching so that they could continue to assist these girls through the crisis, Maraldo said. 

“The greatest challenge is that most of our teachers have to go online to teach, but they are used to getting feedback from girls in a classroom and feeling the energy in the room and knowing where to go next intuitively,” Maraldo said. “Even on a zoom platform you don’t see everybody. It’s like being on tv so you have to know what you’re saying ahead of time without feedback. I think the teachers’ lack of experience teaching and the students’ lack of learning this way is a challenge.”

Girls Inc. is also working with public schools to try to get the girls laptops so they can use the programs online. 

“The girls have been amazing in terms of receptivity and adjusting to the virtual world,” Maraldo said. “The thing that is taking a lot more in terms of time and energy for us are girls whose families are hit by the virus. A lot of them are from families whose parents are essential workers.”

The annual fund-raising gala was moved online because of the pandemic, so money is a concern for future operations. However, Maraldo is optimistic that they will be able to continue to help the girls in need. 

“One of the most important takeaways of the epidemic is the remarkable resilience of the human spirit,” Maraldo said. “There are stories of people connecting more than ever before. Because there is a deep and compelling bond that is driving people together… All new yorkers seem to be taking this very seriously and our trends are moving in the right direction.”

Maraldo is very grateful to all of the people who have helped Girls Inc. continue in its mission, as well as to all of the healthcare workers who are saving lives, particularly in impoverished communities where the crisis hit the hardest. 

“One of the things that are very clear about this thing is that people are very clearly rising to the occasion,” Maraldo said. “The human spirit is strong and undaunted. I think with a little luck and a lot of faith, we’ll end up in a stronger position.”

More information about Girls Inc. initiatives and donations is available at https://www.girlsincnyc.org/

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