While some school systems struggle to get students to graduate from high school, Girls Inc. has a 100 percent college attainment rate.
"Four years ago when I started, I started looking at how many of our girls in our after-school programs go to college," said Bea Lurie, president and CEO of Girls Inc. of Chattanooga. "It's been 100 percent, and what I love about that number is that it is with girls who were not [initially] planning to go to college."
All 20 girls who graduated from high school while enrolled in Girls Inc. over the past three years went on to college, she said.
All but one of them are enrolled in four-year colleges, Lurie said, while the one who chose a two-year college had not been planning to attend at all. And all of the college students are "thriving," Lurie said.
On Friday, the organization will host Pure Gold: Girls Inc. of Chattanooga's 50th Anniversary celebration. Along with a dinner and dance, participants will see a presentation about the organization's 50-year history.
When Girls Inc. started, the goal was to teach girls how to be good homemakers, said Shannon Colbert, Girls Inc. of Chattanooga's manager of development and communications. The organization's first national honor established in 1952 was the "Homemaker of the Year" award.
But the organization has followed the development of women over time and now is focused on helping girls get careers, she said.
"No matter what period, the message has always been that girls can do whatever they set their mind to do," Colbert said.
Girls Inc. has been recognized nationally since 1945 and has chapters in all 50 states and Canada, according to www.girlsinc.org.
What: Pure Gold: Girls Inc. of Chattanooga's 50th Anniversary Celebration
When: 6-11 p.m. Friday
Where: The Chattanoogan hotel, 1201 S. Broad St.
Admission: $100 per person
Information: Call 624-4757 or go to www.girlsincofchatt.org.
Even some girls who come into the program shy evolve into public speakers and problem solvers, Lurie said. The program strives to make its participants strong, smart and bold, she said.
Markesha Dunhan, a junior at Berea College, said Girls Inc. helped her learn to communicate with people she didn't know.
"I am president of our gospel choir on campus called the Black Music Ensemble, so that's my first time having a leadership position," Dunhan said. "I have no idea how I got here from the shy 12-year-old."
Dunhan, a Spanish and women's studies major, attends Berea on a full scholarship and anticipates being on the dean's list when mid-term grades are listed.
Lurie attributes the program's college attainment success to giving children the expectation of being college graduates while they are young.
"If they don't hear about it at home, they hear about it here," she said. "If you stay with us until you're 18, you're going to hear about college until you're in college, and then we're going to track you in college as well."
Girls Inc. also sponsors college tours to take the girls and their parents to visit campuses. The trips are important to several girls in the organization because they don't hear a lot about college at home, said Lurie, who is a first-generation college graduate in her family.
Communicating high academic expectations works, said 15-year-old Kianna Lindsey.
"I've been in Girls Inc. since I was 8. My first college trip was when I was 10. We went to Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga.," said Kianna, who plans to attend the school after graduating from Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences. "Girls Inc. is so for women being successful. They want you to get the best education that you can and they prepare you for that."
Seven-year-old Aubree Carter, an after-school Girls Inc. participant, also has the message of high expectations.
"I'm going to be a teacher," she said through missing front teeth. "I'll get to get some money and I can tell my class what to do."