Girls Inc. grant will ‘empower’ young women

Girls Incorporated of the TN Valley has been selected as one of eight non-profit organizations in East Tennessee to increase access to postsecondary education for women and girls in East Tennessee, according to program director Alanna Kosier. The eight nonprofits are under the umbrella of the Women’s Fund of East Tennessee.

According to a press release issued by WFET, a major barrier to college education for women and girls in the area is simply a negative message. So, over the next three years, WFET will spend $300,000 in grant money to reduce those negative messages.

“The mission is for every woman and girl to be self-sustaining,” Kosier explained, “so girls don’t end up in poverty if they grew up in poverty. There are other options than what you’ve grown up in and been exposed to.”

For three years, the girls who participate in the Girls Inc. programs will be part of an ongoing study.

“I got to interview the girls and their parents and guardians — a lot of girls we serve are being raised by a grandparent or another family member and ask them questions about how they feel about their daughters going to college and what resources they know of now. Some don’t know,” Kosier said. “So we already have good things to report back to the women’s foundation of what girls and women know. Now we work on how to get out the knowledge of how to go to college.”

Many prospective students and their families don’t know, for example, about the HOPE scholarships or other government funding.

While Girls Inc. was originally only an after school program in Oak Ridge, it quickly expanded to serve other schools and areas. Most of those schools have very limited programming from Girls Inc., but Briceville Elementary, for example, has a dedicated staff member that leads an after school program. It’s the first year for that, but they’ve run outreach programs at Briceville for two years.

“We’ve held assemblies and self-esteem programs at Briceville in the past,” said Kosier.

Now, Briceville-native April Byrge leads the STEM-centered program. Byrge attended Briceville Elementary as a child and has a background as a park ranger.

“My background is mostly wildlife and the outdoors,” Byrge said, “so we’re doing a lot of that. We’re raising monarch butterflies and have done some experiments with leaf color change. We’re learning about hibernation and bats.”

While the program has only been around for about three weeks, she already has 35 girls in her program. An unexpected benefit of the program has been the relationships she’s already built with the girls.

“I’m from Briceville. A lot girls here maybe don’t realize the opportunities that are out there,” she said. “I didn’t know the types of careers and internships that were out there until I was in college. I didn’t even know what a park ranger did until I got an internship. Exposing girls to things like this and letting them know that girls can do those things, that it’s not just a career for a guy, that can definitely benefit them.”

Girls Inc. has a number of different revenue avenues, including grants from the juvenile justice system. One statistic is responsible for that: young women are the fastest-growing demographic in local jails. Girls Inc. runs a group mentoring program at some of their sites with mentors that are passionate about their mission. Around 70 girls participate in those.

“Our studies show that groups are more effective,” Kosier said. “Teaching these girls basic self defense moves, how to stay safe in their communities and how to get themselves out of dangerous environments are some of our goals.”

The mentoring targets a specific demographic of at-risk girls, but all girls are invited.

For more information on Girls Inc. and to volunteer as a mentor, visit