DRACUT — The short speech by Tracy Ingersoll on Thursday night was more than a commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of the Greater Lowell chapter of Girls Inc. It was a travel through time for the 250 people who attended.
Ingersoll is the organization’s executive director and inspirational leader. The Lowell affiliate that she chairs is one of the 82 strewn across North America. As women’s roles in society, and in the workforce, strengthened over the past century, so too has Girls Inc. evolved to both comply with and define the changes but also to have an impact.
“As WWI raged on, women organized on behalf of social reform,” she said. They fought for the right to vote and to work. “We continue our fight and we thank you all for being in our girls’ corner.” By building confidence in girls ages 5-18, empowered women materialize. There are currently 132 girls enrolled in that curriculum.
The reach of Girls Inc. continues to grow. Young ladies age out of the program then go on to be successful leaders, business managers and principal players in their community. Often giving back in some capacity to the organization. Many of those who have emerged from that nexus were in attendance.
One such alumna is Amy Werner, Lowell General Hospital’s director of philanthropy.
“It helped me make friends and build relationships as a child, I always felt included. I used to look forward to going, all the different experiences,” Werner said.
Today, there are even more opportunities to learn and do.
The 5,000 square-foot building at 220 Worthen St. features many specialized rooms for learning.
From ukulele lessons to scientific research, the girls have dozens of organized, expert-led workshops and projects to participate in.
A dance troupe from the club performed a choreographed routine to entertainment the crowd at Lenzi’s Function Hall.
And, in keeping with the gender theme, an all-female band, Ladies of Blues and Soul, drove in from Boston to provide ambience to the catered event.
Many of today’s members are part of a legacy. Madelynn Flores was, along with her sister, a longtime member.
She now has two daughters in the program, including 12-year-old Jelicity Mercado.
“There is so much opportunity to do things,” Mercado said. “I like to write stories and create characters.”
The stories that she and others create are often performed as skits and haunted house experiences, complete with self-constructed thematic settings.
Ingersoll spoke of the overarching mission of Girls Inc.,which is to produce “strong, smart and bold” girls like Jelicity, “They teach us to face our fears; zip-lining, ropes course and trust-building activities.”
Formerly known as The Girls’ Club, Girls Inc. has its historical roots planted firmly in U.S. Civil War. The group has been constantly reshaping itself, usually with the backdrop of war.
And the Lowell chapter was borne of World War I’s need for domestic support of overseas combatants, like staging dances for returning soldiers.
Then at the end of WWII the group was finally recognized as a founding member of Girls Clubs of America.
Girls Inc. has partnerships with several local businesses including UMass Lowell, Middlesex Community College, Lowell General Hospital and many area businesses.
These partners supply the club with funds, resources, lecturers and equipment to support the dozens of projects and initiatives, from healthy dietary practices to exploring the solar system to technical skills. Everything is grounded in literacy and self-awareness.
“Girls have been encouraged for a hundred years to support each other,” Ingersoll said, citing the incremental progress of the women’s movement thanks to the collective voice. “Look at the many things we still have yet to accomplish.”
Among some noted local women who passed through the Girls Inc. system are 3rd Congressional District candidate Bopha Malone, City Councilor Rita Mercier, Lowell General Hospital executives Pamela Huntley, Sabrina Granville and Werner.
“We are at maximum capacity and have a waiting list for the first time I can remember,” said Program Coordinator Pam Larocque. “That is mainly due to the generational aspect of membership.”