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From left, Eriel Mitchell, Lariyah Fortson, Toccora Johnson and Laké Davison attend a party to celebrate Valentine's Day and Black History Month.

On Monday afternoon, more than two dozen girls gathered in the cafeteria of Hardy Elementary School, laughing and squealing as they ate snacks and played games.

The girls, 6- to 9-year-olds from Hardy and Harrison elementary schools, were there for Girls Inc. - a program that meets four days a week, offering educational support and enrichment.

The games and snacks were in celebration of Valentine's Day and Black History Month. But Girls Inc. has another key celebration: Today is its 50-year anniversary.

"We've come a long way," said Girls Inc. President and CEO Bea Lurie. "And we have plenty more we still want to do."

Girls Inc.'s goal is to help girls become "strong, smart and bold" - stressing education, career planning, leadership skills and healthy habits.

In its 50 years, Girls Inc. leaders estimate they have served more than 23,000 girls in Hamilton County, and they have said that most of the teens involved in their high school programs go to college. Girls Inc. offers programs for girls ages 6 to 19, although it's had to cut its number of locations because of a slump in funding.



* 1960s - Focus in homemaking, hygiene and the fine arts

* 1970s - Community service, government and leadership

* 1980s - Creative arts and recreational activities, friendship

* 1990s - Careers, public speaking, advocacy

* 2000s - Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)


Open House - March 1 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Girls Inc. Founder's House, 709 S. Greenwood Ave.

Learn about Girls Inc.'s history in Chattanooga, take a tour of the Founder's House, meet Girls Inc. girls and alumnae. Enjoy a dessert and wine reception. For more information, call 423-624-4757.

UnBought & UnBossed Awards Breakfast - April 29 from 7:15 to 9 a.m. Girls Inc. girls honor the 10 women they selected for making a difference in the lives of girls and women. Tickets are $50 per person, or $400 for a table of eight. For more information, go to

Girl Walk for the Future - May 14. Walk or run to commemorate Girls Inc. of Chattanooga's 50th anniversary and to learn about stepping stones to a future of success for girls; Stroller Stride for Dads. To register, visit

Girls Inc. Golf Open - May 24. Golf tournament at Lookout Mountain Country Club. To register, visit

Girls Inc. Alumnae Reunion - June 18. Contact Awayne Williams at 423-624-4757 to volunteer or for more information; register at

Source: Girls Inc.

The organization was founded as Girls Club of Chattanooga on Feb. 15, 1961, by the Chattanooga Businesswomen's Club. According to former president Jane Lupton, who was involved in the 1960s, girls had no other resource like it at the time.

"We were disturbed by the fact that the Boys Club had all this funding, two facilities, and girls didn't have anything," Lupton said. Back then, the organization focused on providing a safe place for girls to be after school, and it taught them basics of homemaking and self-care.

"But that changed with the times," Lupton said. "We welcomed the changing role of women."

The club's focus shifted in the 1970s, according to Peggy Jones, a president during those years.

"We went from knitting, sewing and baton-twirling to focusing on college and career. Boys ruled the world back then. We wanted girls to know how important they were," Jones said.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the program further emphasized leadership and career development.

Tiffany Sand was 6 when her mother signed her up for Girls Inc. in 1989.

"I had so many of my 'firsts' through Girls Inc.," she said. "My first time going out of town was with Girls Inc. My first job was at one of their summer camps. My first time talking about college was with them."

Sand was also the first in her family to graduate from college.

After graduation, she came back to work at Girls Inc. and is now program director at the Hardy site.

The girls she works with now all have big dreams.

"I would like to be a veterinarian," said 8-year-old Kamaya Smith, who listed the group's field trips to places such as the Challenger Center as her favorite part of the program.

Currently, Lurie said, Girls Inc. stresses science, technology, engineering and math -- the STEM program. One of the developers of STEM is Sheila Boyington, who has been on Girls Inc.'s board for six years.

"We want to see girls excited about science and technology at a young age," she said. "They're entering a fast-changing world, and we want to see them ready."