Mission and History
We are dedicated to building connections that support girls to help develop their strengths and inspire them to believe in their voices.
At the center of our work is Girls’ Circles. This is the trunk from which we branch out and blossom. We host our Girls’ Day Out and Celebration Dinner to bookend each school year’s Girls’ Circle program. We are continually developing various programs to enhance and support the Girls’ Circles, including Field Trips and Parents Day Out.
We are committed to effecting positive change in the lives of girls and their families by collaborating with the community and their schools. We become regular and committed parts of our girls’ lives, and we serve as role models and advocates for them as they navigate the challenges of adolescence as a girl. We teach them to teach themselves, to be problem solvers and to be resilient. We focus our work on inspiring young women to be their best selves and to trust and honor their own voices.
In 2003, one of our founding mothers, Joanne Tobiessen, attended a League of Women Voters convention in Washington, DC and came home inspired by Doris Shapira, the League’s UN observer, who talked about her work with The International Working Group on Girls. The International WGG is a UNICEF coalition of over 75 national and international non-governmental organizations with representation at the United Nations dedicated to promoting the human rights of girls, advancing the inclusion and status of girls and assisting them to develop their full potential.
What if, Tobiessen wondered, we could replicate that sort of collaboration on a local level? She pitched the idea to the League of Women Voters of Schenectady County.
“League members responded with enthusiasm and the Working Group on Girls has grown to the incredible organization that it is today,” explains Cheryl Nechamen, President of the League of Women Voters of Schenectady County.
Joanne got the League’s support to recruit women from various organizations in Schenectady that work with and for girls to start a similar group here. Joanne was joined by Betsy Forkas and together they began making calls, knocking on doors, and asking one pivotal question: What does a community that cares about its girls look like?
With this small organization of women interested in supporting our community’s girls, we began to work together to put the spotlight on girls and educate the community about their needs, challenges, opportunities, and successes. Our first meeting was at the YWCA in November of 2003.
Our first programming was initiated in the fall of 2004 by League of Women Voters (LWV) and American Association of University Women (AAUW) as a collaborative committee with representatives from agencies serving girls, including the Boys and Girls Club, Capital Region BOCES, Carver APPS, Girls Inc., Girls Scouts NENY, Niskayuna School District, PFLAG, SAFE House, Schenectady City School District (SCSD), Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS) of Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson (PPMH), Schenectady YWCA, and students from Union College and Schenectady High School.
We began by hosting annual forums to help educate the community about the challenges girls face and how the community can best meet their needs for overcoming these challenges. These forums were attended by not only girls but also community members, leaders, and educators. The presenters included the girls themselves, as well as topic experts, such as law enforcement, educators and school administrators, counselors, psychologists, social workers, and others.
In response to our forums, girls reached out to us, expressing their frustration with bullying and asking us to help them further in combating it. In response, we hosted a film screening and guided discussion for the movie Odd Girl Out at each of the Schenectady City School District middle schools. Our goal was to open a dialogue for the girls that helped empower them to identify and counter aggressive behavior among peers. This event clarified for us that we wanted to do more than just educate the general public. We want to help girls directly.
Over the next few years, we struggled to figure out how we could best meet our girls’ needs. We like to joke that we were building the bus as we were driving it down the road. We began with our Girls’ Day Out in November, 2009, but we soon realized the girls needed the ongoing presence of a positive community of other girls and supportive adults. Over time and through trial-and-error, Girls’ Circles developed. We’re still building the bus. And the bus is getting bigger every year.