Tiffany Sands was six years old the first time she walked into Girls Inc.
"Nearly everybody went back then," said the 28-year-old Sands on Wednesday. "I'd say four of every five girls I went to Howard Elementary School with went to Girls Inc. It was strange if you didn't go."
And, oh, the things she learned there. There were sports to perfect and games to play and books to read from the first day forward. There were bigger lessons to learn later on.
"They sent me on my first airplane flight," she said. "We flew to Nashville and went to the Opryland Hotel and the zoo. They taught me economic literacy, so that when I got my first job I knew what to do with my money."
And because of Girls Inc., Sands became the first person in her family to go to college, eventually graduating from Tennessee State. She's now the program coordinator at Hardy Elementary as she works on her MBA.
"Girls Inc. allowed me to step outside the normal inner-city environment," she said. "It's meant everything to me."
So it is with much concern and sadness that she estimates that the program formerly known Girls Club now reaches, "Roughly one girl in 10. There just isn't enough money to hire counselors to work with more than 12 or 13 girls for each school's after-school program. I wish we could get back to where we never have to turn a girl down."
Every nonprofit is hurting these days. But most of them aren't celebrating their 50th anniversary of service to our Scenic City.
So in hopes of making the next 50 years every bit as enriching as the last to our town's girls ages 6 to 18, Girls Inc. board chairman Elaine Swafford decided to stage the first annual Girls Inc. Golf Open at the Lookout Mountain Golf Club this coming Tuesday (May 24).
Owing to the good work of Swafford, honorary chairs Clara and Rody Davenport III and co-directors Susan and John Dever, the tourney's 25 four-member teams are almost all filled.
"But you always need more sponsors," said Swafford, who can be reached through Girls, Inc. for anyone still interested in becoming a sponsor for this year's event.
"This is a very giving place, a very philanthropic community, and we're certainly better off than five years ago. But dollars are getting harder to come by every year. That was a big reason for the golf tournament - we wanted to target an audience we may not have reached before."
Over the past 50 years Girls Inc. has reached more than 23,000 girls in the Chattanooga area. Some 400 girls are currently in the program, more than 80 percent of them from the inner-city.
"But our girls also come from East Hamilton, East Ridge, East Lake and everywhere else," said Swafford. "We've noticed how well kids from different geographic areas learn from each other. Our ultimate goal is what it's always been - to produce college-educated, self-sustaining young women. Strong, smart, bold women."
Women like Tiffany Sands, who said, "If it wasn't for Girls Inc., there's no telling where I'd be today."
There's also no telling where our society will be 50 years from now if we don't continue to support such youth-oriented programs in the future.