I am a girl. I am a girl who was asked what I wanted for dinner each night. I am a girl who always had parents in the stands at my soccer games. I am a girl who got new sneakers and backpacks every year for school, not because the zipper was broken or the shoes didn’t fit, but just because. I am a girl.
When the non-profit organization Girls Inc. started in 1864, the lack of back-to-school sneakers was hardly the centerfold issue at hand, and it still isn’t. Today, the 78 affiliates nationwide have made it their mission to focus on the “whole girl” and inspire them all to be strong, smart and bold.
“All girls have issues, not just underserved girls. And underserved can mean a lot of different things,” Former Interim Executive Director and Chappaqua Resident Kimberly Logan said. “All girls need exposure to the power of their voice and what they can do.”
One way the girls in Westchester have the chance to do so is through the Girls Inc. curriculum that centers around those three words from the mission statement. Whether it’s empowering the body and mind through yoga and self-care practices, their confidence through leadership workshops or their intelligence through STEM-based programs such as robotics or financial workshops, the girls have the chance to feel strong, smart and bold.
While the programs typically take place after school 2-3 days a week, the pandemic has also made virtual sessions available. And since the goal is to bring exposure to the girls, the program is always free, with various fundraisers including their annual Gala.
After two years the Strong Smart & Bold Gala will be back in person at the Glen Island Harbour Club on Thursday April 7 at 6:00PM in New Rochelle. The theme of the event is “Their future. Their voice,” and focuses on furthering the voices of these young women through diversity, empowerment and advocacy.
The two honorees are Jasmine Bellamy and Mimi Rocah. While Bellamy currently serves as Reebok’s Head of Change Management for United Against Racism and was named one of Sports Illustrated’s 100 Influential Black Women in Sports in 2021, Rocah was elected as Westchester’s District Attorney in 2020 and was awarded the Women in Federal Law Enforcement Leadership Award in 2016. Although they are involved in different fields of work, both are committed leaders who are advocating for more equality within their communities.
The introduction of the Altman Advocacy Award at this year’s gala also honors Jennifer Altman, Ph.D., who formerly served on the Board of Directors and as Board Chair of Girls Inc. Westchester. Currently, she is a clinical psychiatrist in Hastings on Hudson.
“We honor [Altman’s] commitment to advocacy for all the young women of Westchester,” Girls Inc. Westchester said on their website. “We are uplifted by her inspiration and are empowered by her passion for a brighter future.”
This will be Executive Director Sharlise Smith-Rodriguez’s first gala, as she just began her work at Girls Inc. three months ago.
“With the gala, I’m excited and I’m nervous, but more excited just to see the different supporters of Girls Inc. come together,” Smith-Rodriguez said.
Aside from the gala, the organization gets its funding through sponsorships, fundraising events and grants. Just recently, the county provided a substantial grant for tutoring so that things like SAT prep will be available to students in places where it might not be easily accessible. The plan is to have an intensive tutoring program in two districts in the upcoming year.
In terms of what districts have Girls Inc. programming, right now there are several in Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Yonkers, White Plains, Port Chester, Peekskill, Mount Kisco and Ossining. But the goal is to get into more districts, such as Lewisboro and getting settled back into the Bedford districts after recently reentering.
“I would love to reach those communities that people think don’t need it, because I think that all girls, not just underrepresented girls, all girls need that encouragement, that support, being able to advocate for themselves or things within their community,” Smith-Rodriguez said. “So I would love to expand into other, if it’s public, private or charter schools, within Westchester County.”
In order to carry out that future goal of Smith-Rodriguez’s, facilitators need to be found and funds need to be raised for the programming.
Has reading this article made you want to help? Here are a few ways.
If you are a teacher assistant or an educator of any kind looking to be an empowering mentor to girls, volunteer. If you want to attend the gala and meet some of the amazing women involved, you can purchase a ticket. If you want to help fund new programming, you can donate or purchase a gala sponsorship.
And girls, remember: Be strong. Be smart. Be bold.
From Girls, Inc.:
White Plains, N.Y –, Girls Inc. of Westchester County will celebrate and honor two trailblazing women and celebrate one committed advocate at their Strong Smart & Bold Gala 6:00 pm on Thursday, April 7, 2022, at Glen Island Park in New Rochelle, NY. The theme for this year’s gala is “Their Future, Their Voice” to empower all girls to find their voice and encourage advocacy for themselves and others. Current and world events have shown us the importance of girls and women finding their voice and speaking out about the issues that impact their lives. This year’s gala will recognize Jasmine Bellamy and Mimi Rocah as honorees and introduce the inaugural Altman Advocacy Award to Jennifer Altman.
“After two years of navigating through a pandemic, we are excited to be able to hold our gala in person and continue to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. Our honorees embody the mission of our organization for how they have used their voices to break barriers, empower change in their organizations, and their continued work towards fairness for all. I am looking forward to celebrating this year’s honorees as well as the girls in our program who will one day become our future leaders,” said Sharlise Smith-Rodriguez, Executive Director.
Jasmine Bellamy is a customer-centric, data-driven global executive merchant who is currently leading Reebok’s U.S. Direct to Consumer Business. In addition, Bellamy is also the brand’s Head of Change Management for United Against Racism. She is the creator and co-facilitator of Courageous Conversation, a place for people inside the organization to pause and participate in deep listening and learning from people who are different from themselves. Before her position at Reebok, Bellamy had more than 25 years of experience where she has helped drive the merchandising strategies for Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdales, LOFT, Kmart, Gap, and has also directed celebrity brand collections of Sarah Jessica Parker, Venus Williams, Nicki Minaj, and others. Outside of her career, Bellamy served on the Board of Women in Retail Leadership Circle as its first Director of Diversity and Inclusion and is also the founder of Love 101 Ministries, a community dedicated to the theology and practice of love which shapes how to lead and transform businesses, teams, and culture.
Miriam “Mimi” E. Rocah is currently the District Attorney for Westchester County, elected in 2020 after running a grassroots campaign centered on reforming and modernizing the Westchester County DA’s office, rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities it serves, and fighting for a safer and fairer criminal justice system for all of Westchester. Before she was elected Westchester County DA, Rocah served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney from 2001 to 2017 in the Southern District of New York. She oversaw the prosecution of organized crime, gun traffickers, corrupt officials, narcotics dealers, sex traffickers, and child predators. In 2012 during the Obama administration, Rocah was promoted by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to Chief of the Westchester Division for the Department of Justice, where she served as primary liaison with law enforcement agencies and prosecutorial offices as well as coordinated and co-chair multi county task forces on issues such as human trafficking and the opioid overdose epidemic. A native of Chicago, Illinois, Rocah graduated from Harvard University with a B.A. in American History, and received her J.D. from New York University of Law. Today she currently lives in Scarsdale with her husband and two children, and is an active volunteer with Moms Demand Action and a board member of My Sister’s Place.
“We could not be more excited to introduce the inaugural Altman Advocacy Award at this year’s gala. It was created to acknowledge the impact that commitment and passion for change can have on an individual, a community, and an organization. The recipient for this year’s award will be Jennifer Altman. Jennifer has spent her life and career committed to driving change by empowering girls to find their voice and advocate for themselves and others,” said Fiona Bruder and Kim Logan, Gala Co-Chairs. A clinical psychologist specializing in working with children, Altman is a member of The GIWC Wise Women Council and previously served as a member of the Board of Directors and as Board Chair for Girls Inc. of Westchester County.
Gala attendees will enjoy a spectacular cocktail reception, dinner, and a special presentation that will showcase personal stories of the young program participants. Adding to the evening will be a silent auction, live auction, and a fund a need led by award winning auctioneer Erin Ward of Star Benefit Auctions.
This year’s gala is generously sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive, Linda and Earle Altman, Jennifer Altman and Jason Fein, Bank of America, Centric Brands, Fullerton Beck, Key Bank, Michael Mattiello/Merrill Lynch, Party City, United Healthcare, Aetna CVS Health, Axis/HALO Promotions, 914Cares, ELMC Risk Management, and TD Bank. Tickets are $300 per person and can be purchased online at www.StrongSmartBoldGala.org. For more information about the event and the sponsorship opportunities available, please contact Monica Spears at (914) 419-0764, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the event website at www.StrongSmartBoldGala.org.
About Girls Inc. Westchester: Established in 2007, Girls Inc. of Westchester County inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. Girls Inc. of Westchester offers girls-only programs at schools throughout Westchester County to help girls navigate the real-life challenges they confront during middle and high school and lay the groundwork for educated, healthy, and independent futures. To learn more about Girls Inc. of Westchester County, please visit their website at www.girlsincwestchester.org.
Photos courtesy of Girls Inc. of Westchester County