Girls Inc. of New York city inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold through direct service and advocacy.
Below are the stories of girls who've overcome adversity, peer pressure, and bullying. Learn how they're thriving as young leaders in their schools and communities.
Gabi, 12th Grade
My mom immigrated to the U.S. from China, and I was born and raised in lower Manhattan/Chinatown. Going into high school, I was shy and never pictured myself being a leader. As an Asian American young woman, there is the stereotype of passivity and submissiveness that has haunted me throughout my life. My school is STEM focused, and the STEM courses are male dominated. The girls are often scared to participate, scared to be heard. In a male dominated society, girls and young women deserve to be heard as much as everyone else.
With this belief, I joined Girls Inc. of NYC’s Teen Leadership Circles (TLC). Over the last two years I recruited and led a leadership circle of 30 participants called Female Force, a safe space to empower girls at school. This group was key to finding a community after the isolation of the pandemic.
Girls Inc. of NYC has been transformative—truly instrumental to developing me into the person I am today. I am more confident, I take more risks, and I do not hold back out of fear of failure. I’m proud of who I've grown into. I can take with me what I learned in Girls Inc. as I approach the future. Whatever I face in life, I’m ready.
Sumaira, First Year, NYU
Despite the difficult times we live in, change is possible. Anything is possible, if you have the right community behind you. Girls Inc. of New York City has been that community for me.
My parents immigrated from Pakistan to New Jersey, where I was raised. When I was six years old, my father got deported. Without financial support, my mom moved me and my 4 siblings to a 1-bedroom attic in Brighton Beach.
Our relatives told my mom “Go back to Pakistan if you don’t want to live in poverty,” but my mother was determined that her children, especially her 4 daughters, have access to the opportunities in the U.S. that they wouldn’t have back home. So we stayed.
At Urban Assembly High School, I joined Girls Inc. of NYC’s College Shower/college prep program. As a first generation American and college applicant, it was a difficult time for me. My Girls Inc. of NYC instructor, Nioka, was an incredible source of support. She educated us on the realities of college life, what resources were available, reviewed our college and financial aid applications and essays, and created a safe space for us to prepare for college.
I was selected as a College Shower Honoree and received a scholarship. I’m now a freshman at NYU Stern majoring in business, and I continue to be an active participant in Project REACH, Girls Inc. of NYC’s college persistence program. My plan is to become an entrepreneur, breaking the stereotypes and boundaries of my past.
The biggest gift Girls Inc. of NYC gives me is the power of a support system. College is challenging as a low-income first generation college student. I’m grateful that my Project REACH Program Director, Krystal, checks in and shares opportunities. Last month, I participated in a Speed Networking event at the Girls Inc. of NYC office. As I walked into the Girls Inc. conference room, and saw the 30 accomplished professionals who were ready to share their advice and help, I was reminded that I have the support system that I never knew I needed. Because of this support, and because of my mother’s enduring strength, which sent 3 of her daughters to college, I know that I will make it.
Najja, 9th grade
I joined Girls Inc. in 6th grade. Before joining Girls Inc. I thought it was going to be boring, but I was quickly proven wrong. I created so many new bonds with the other girls in the program and had the opportunity to try new things.
One of my biggest challenges I faced before coming to Girls Inc. was focusing on what’s important. I was clueless, focused on boys and my friends while neglecting my grades. The Girls Inc. staff really showed me they care about me and my academics. They pushed me to study hard and make positive life choices. Now, I can proudly say that my grades have improved, I successfully made it to the 9th grade, and I passed my regents exams.
In 6th or 7th grade, my grandmother passed away and one staff members who got me through this tough time was Ms. Joanne. She came to check up on me and we had a long talk until I was able to calm down. To be honest, all of the staff members have taught me how to manage my stress. They have also encouraged me to not be afraid to try new things.
I’ve always had a love for dancing since I was 3 years old so joining the dance team was a no brainer. While on the dance team I learned a lot about teamwork and grew closer to my teammates. Our sisterhood grew stronger during the Step It Up competition after having to work so hard and having our limits tested.
While being apart of Girls Inc. I think I have become more independent and helpful. Girls Inc. helped me discover my love for working with younger girls. I am currently volunteering every day with them to help coach the dance team that I was once apart of.
Sabra, 6th grade
When I first heard about Girls Inc., I thought this is just another after school homework help program but then my friends and I decided to join and check out what they have. It turns out that my mentors do art just like me!
My favorite clubs are Creative Me, D.I.Y., and Media Literacy. Creative Me gives me a chance to express myself through my art, D.I.Y. teaches me how to make cool things, and media literacy helps me think critically about the media messages I see every day! Aside from all the things I do in my clubs, my favorite thing about Girls Inc. are the trips. I especially liked going to see the “African Mean Girls” play. Although I keep to myself, I do love traveling with people and having fun. Girls Inc. of New York City gives me the opportunity to go on trips and experience new things.
When I grow up I want to be an artist, an animator, or an animation comedian. I feel like our Creative Me club helps me to express myself through my art which is helping me reach this goal.
Manuela, 12th grade
The college process has been really intense. Girls Inc. of New York City has given me tools that help with the process and stay on track. For example, the week before break, I was really stressed, breaking out, with lack of sleep because I wanted to meet the deadline to submit the college applications. Ms. Mariah noticed that we were all stressed, so she allowed us time to work on our college applications and offered assistance to look over our essays.
Ms. Mariah also taught us how to meditate and to clear our mind so that we can focus better. This taught me to shift my thought process from negative to positive. In Girls Inc. of New York City, we learn important knowledge on drugs, alcohol, and relationships that relate to the college experience. Girls Inc. inspired me to be strong, smart, and bold by being confident in who I am, confident in the decisions that I made, and to always educate myself on topics that people do not like to shed light on because it impacts me and those around me.
Before I joined Girls Inc., I was very shy and didn't even participate in class. I was always afraid that I would say something silly or something that didn’t make sense. I didn’t want to join any GINYC classes because I knew I was going to have to speak, so I decided to join the Step and Beauty Club. In Beauty Club, we learned how to take care of our bodies and hair. I learned how to make goals about what I want my hair to look like in the future and what to do to prepare to meet those goals. One thing I love about my hair is my curls! I also love to do puffs and braids. I also like the club because of my facilitator Ms. Bri. She encourages me to do things I wouldn’t normally do, like step outside my shell and meet new people. She has helped me be less nervous and anxious in my other classes too. I love Girls Inc. because I get to be myself and be creative!
-Jahdi, 6th grade
Hafsha, 12th grade
Before participating in Girls Inc., my biggest challenges was trying to “fit in” with my peers. Having to wear a hijab made me feel like I stood out. I decided to wear the hijab in a unique way by tucking it in, to be less covered. This simple change caused some rift in my family because it is seen as not being traditional. I was also painfully shy, which made it even more difficult to connect with others. Trying to find the balance of my community, school and family has been a challenge that I realize often.
I credit the creed of being Strong, Smart and Bold as words that have influenced my daily life. I have learned to become more outspoken and have a voice with my peers and family. Girls Inc. has given me the opportunity to explore careers in STEM, which is why I now want to become an Orthopedic Surgeon. I am now bold, which made me the confident person I am today.
Girls Inc. has taught me not just to receive but to also give back, through community service. I was inspired to be a part of my Mosque teen events and helps “tweens” learn more about the culture. I hope to attend Columbia University or New York University this fall and major in History and go Pre-Med. Girls Inc. has guided me throughout four years of high school with mentorships, college visits, and opportunities far beyond I could have ever imagined.
Kaia, 12th grade
When I started 6th grade, I was often bullied and teased by my peers for all the little trendy items that I did not have to show off, like they did. Constant name calling, isolation, and disapproval were all I knew as a young girl. As a result, to try to escape this hurt, I would talk to myself when in search of comfort. I was searching for a way to express how I truly felt, with someone who understood me without judgment. In my times of need, the only person who fit that criterion was myself.
Gratefully, that period did not last for long. There was a sudden change when I decided to attend the Girls Inc program at my school. At first, I was apprehensive and saw it as just a way to pass the time. But my perception of the program gradually changed as my participation progressed. The one class that resonated deeply with me was the art class. When in the Girls Inc art class, I was exposed to new ways of expressing myself, my thoughts, ideas, and emotions. It was beautiful to discover a way of letting my voice be heard without the constant fear of being judged, bullied, or scrutinized.
In moments where I felt alone, I learned there were many other girls in the same boat, feeling the same way. It provided me with countless opportunities of connecting with others and being challenged to step out of my comfort zone. As a shy person, it was not easy to converse with new people but the program taught me how to use similarities and experiences as a way to connect with my peers. Now, I am able to say that this young woman is strong, smart, and boldly determined to change the world. In the same way that Girls Inc. has changed my world.
After being in Girls Inc. for two years, I gained the confidence and courage to openly love myself and be proud of the features given to me. From this experience, I would love to teach the young girls of the future that whiteness does not equate to beauty--beauty comes from within you. There is nothing wrong with altering your appearance, but you should not feel shame or be punished for loving who you are. Whether it’s your family or society that’s against you, you should feel proud of who you are with no regrets.
-Katie, 11th grade
I’m encouraged to keep drawing because of the compliments I receive from my facilitators. I also like to make stories, so I have a story in mind before I begin to draw.” She admits that the Re-imagining Fairy tales club facilitated by Ms. Jessica at Girls Inc. at TYWLS Astoria challenges her to be creative. She offers some advice to aspiring artists out there: “When you are trying to be creative it’s hard because you have to keep doing it. It takes a lot of practice and time.
-Asiamae, 6th grade
Marlyn, 7th grade
Before joining Girls Inc. in 6th grade, I was pretty shy. I just started middle school and didn’t think I would make many friends. I thought I would stick with just one or two friends or just stay to myself most of the time. I joined Girls Inc. and immediately felt at home. During my first Project W.O.W. week, I found myself having fun and participating in all of the daily activities. I even got some of the other girls to join in and they are now some of my many friends.
Two of the staff members at Girls Inc. who made a huge impact on my Girls Inc. experience are Ms. Sherri and Ms. Dax. They both in their own way showed me what it means to be strong, smart, and bold. They’ve encouraged me to be confident and not to be afraid to try new things.
Being in Girls Inc. gave me the confidence to come out to my mom as pansexual. I've always been afraid to reveal that part of myself to her but Girls Inc. has taught me it is okay to be me. In the end, my mom accepts and loves me for who I am and we have grown a lot closer. I would have to say this was one of my proudest moments as a Girls Inc. girl.
Ms. Sherri’s Mind & Body Club has taught all-natural beauty products and the importance of not only being nice to others but being nice to ourselves, from the inside out. Being in her club has been one of my favorite experiences.
I believe being in Girls Inc. is shaping me into the amazing woman I will be one day. I’ve gained confidence and knowledge in just a little over a year being in this program and I am grateful for my experience.
Jodie, 12th grade
Jodie is a senior who attends Central Park East High School. She has been a participant of Girls Inc of New York since her freshman year. During our discussion about the “Girls Inc Experience," Jodie spoke about enjoying being part of the program and spent some time reflecting on this experience
I was always questioning, why should I be a part of Girls Inc.? Why was is so important. When I was a freshman, I was very shy and frightened to speak with new people outside of my circle of friends. I was apprehensive at first about participating and assumed that it was just a class where I would be able to relax and talk to my friends who were in her Girls Inc. group. I was surprised to find that the facilitators engaged us in challenging tasks that pushed us out of our comfort zone. My Girls Inc. experience exposed me to new ideas that have allowed me to open up to my peers and has been a life-changing and positive experience.
Nande, 12th grade
Before Girls Inc., I was incredibly shy. It was hard for me to open up to others and fit in with my peers. Coming to middle school I felt lost and didn't know who would become my new group of friends. I found it hard to filter out who would be a good or bad influence for me. Due to not being able to find where I belonged, I didn't participate in school activities. Every day I went to school and then straight home. I thought it was ok, I was doing this. But little did I know I was depriving myself of vital social development, not to mention the great programming Girls Inc. always provided.
Knowing I needed a change, I signed up for Girls Inc. afterschool. It was the best decision I ever made. Being in Girls Inc. I was able to meet girls that I still consider to be my sisters. I built up my confidence through the fun and exciting classes and trips they made available. Learning what it meant to be Strong, Smart, and Bold developed me into the person I am today. Now, being in the High School chapter of Girls Inc. I believe that I can do anything I put my mind to. I am facilitating an afterschool class called Let's Talk About it, where students can find a fun and safe space to discuss topics and concerns in an open friendly environment. It was Girls Inc. that taught me the sky was the limit and that I can overcome barriers and break through glass ceilings.
I expect to attend Lehigh University to study economics and finance. I will be pursuing a career in finance and politics.
Nabihah, 12th grade
Before joining Girls Inc. of New York City, I was insecure about my abilities to go beyond the world of academics; I was not much of a social butterfly and was very close minded about things. I started Girls Inc. in the 6th grade, entering the program I expected myself to progress socially in an academic and fun way. This is exactly what happened. Girls Inc. helped me realize that increasing my network was not something that I had to do just to benefit my education in school but also in life.
Now I am in the 12th grade, my last year of high school. I have accomplished the goal of Girls Inc. by being strong, smart, and bold! I am now active in my school by being part of Senior Council, over the past years I have joined many other programs that I would have never taken on but without the faith, Girls Inc. has given me, I now have confidence in myself that I can strive anywhere. Girls Inc. has helped me realize how much being a leader is important to me. Being a first generation, Bengali American, and Muslim, I have faced many situations where my identity has been looked down upon because of stereotypes. I used to allow others views of who they think I might be to hinder me from being part of these other wonderful opportunities.
My goal is to expand my knowledge of what it means to be a leader at Johns Hopkins University. My areas of interests are International Relations and Political Science. Girls Inc. has helped me believe in myself and can benefit all girls as it promotes not just women's rights and student's rights, but the rights of all people. This is what I believe it means to be strong, smart, and bold.
FRANCHESCA, 10TH GRADE
"I’m walking away with the ability to love myself and love my body. Before I came here, I didn’t really love myself or how I looked, but Girls Inc. has shown me that it doesn’t matter how I look as long as I love myself and who I am."
Anyelina, 7th grade
The biggest challenge I faced before coming to Girls Inc. was that I had to choose if I wanted to stay with my mom or move in with my dad. Another one was leaving behind my best friend Stacey. When I started Girls Inc., I thought we were just going to talk about puberty and our bodies -- stuff that I thought I already knew.
Being with girls-only felt weird at first because there were other girls in my group that I don’t talk to, so it felt weird having to open up to them. But we have bonded and done activities where we have been able to get to know each other better. My favorite activity so far has been the lesson on puberty. We watched a short video, and I loved how they explained everything in a way that was easy to understand. I learned a lot from it.
I have noticed a change in myself since being in this program. I now participate more and am no longer afraid to open up and share my feelings with other girls. Something I have learned at Girls Inc. that will help me when I am older is to be independent. I learned that if that if you’re independent, you don’t have to rely on others and then be disappointed. We are taught to take initiative within ourselves and everything we do.