Is there a Boys Inc.?
That’s the question I am often asked when describing the impact we have on girls and teens at Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara.
In the beginning of 2022, our family officially became residents of Santa Barbara, and I took up the role of CEO for GIGSB. My partner and I immediately knew that living in Santa Barbara for us meant giving our high school daughter and junior high son a school experience in a warm and welcoming community.
Within the first few weeks of our arrival, however, our community confronted news about students in our public schools using hurtful words and taking harmful actions that made other kids feel unsafe.
My friend’s question remained top of mind. News of these incidents came from multiple school campuses and, in some cases, took place in shared spaces in front of other students.
I immediately convened my board executive committee to help me consider how GIGSB can enhance the programs we provide to both boys and girls through Girls Inc. Gymnastics and in our Goleta Valley Center classrooms to girl-only participants. It’s safe to say most community members know a Girls Inc. girl or a family that has been supported by our work.
Back to that question: Is there a Boys Inc.? Oh, I wish I could emphatically answer “yes.” Not just for the community member who was sitting across from me inquiring for his 7-year-old grandson, but also for all boys.
While our mission is pro-girl, before the COVID-19 pandemic we enrolled 1,200 individual girls and boys (in our gymnastics programs) annually.
In all that we do, we hold up the national Girls Inc. Girls’ Bill of Rights. The spirit of these rights applies to boys, too, however.
1. Girls have the right to be themselves and to resist gender stereotypes.
2. Girls have the right to express themselves with originality and enthusiasm.
3. Girls have the right to take risks, to strive freely, and to take pride in success.
4. Girls have the right to accept and appreciate their bodies.
5. Girls have the right to have confidence in themselves and to be safe in the world.
6. Girls have the right to prepare for interesting work and economic independence.
We are back to 75% to 80% of pre-pandemic levels of students in our programs, and have intentionally expanded our reach to more school sites, including a continuation school in Lompoc, and partnering with community hubs like People’s Self-Help Housing.
What COVID-19 has done is put in sharp relief for people just how essential care and well-being are: health care, child care and elder care.
For everyone in the community who wants to help Santa Barbara thrive, I urge you to look to the social sector agencies that are helping our youth and families overcome some of these essential care challenges.
If you want to do something impactful in your day-to-day, please remember our Girls’ Bill of Rights and help infuse and reinforce these rights in our society when you interact with girls — and boys. When girls are given the tools and opportunities to succeed, not only do they change their own circumstances, they also are empowered to change the circumstances of others around them.
By equipping our girls and all youth with skills that are part of the Girls Inc. Experience, the idea is that they will be immersed in school environments where they can make a difference knowing how to advocate for themselves and for their peers.
This content first appeared in the Noozhawk opinion column, ‘In Her Corner’ on May 11, 2022. Jen Faust is CEO of Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara. The opinions expressed are her own.