Celebrating Our Trailblazers During Women’s History Month
Women’s history happens every day! This month Girls Inc. honors phenomenal women working and leading so tirelessly in our communities as advocates in the areas of social justice and racial equity, as well as those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic who continue to support our most vulnerable as doctors and nurses, teachers, scientists and more.
Our celebration includes Girls Inc. staff, alumnae, and girls as well, and we thank our network and partners who participated by nominating individual women or groups who have made undeniable contributions and change during these tumultuous times. Girls Inc. is honored to spotlight them across our social channels using #GirlsIncTrailblazer and we share them here as well!
Shifting gears to support girls
At the onset of the pandemic, Ana Gerena, Elementary School Program Director of Girls Inc. of the Valley, immediately shifted gears with her newly-assembled team to establish a communication pipeline with girls and families to make sure they had everything they needed, from food and personal care items to cleaning supplies, all while figuring out how she would lead the remote learning efforts for girls.
When parents shared that their children missed Girls Inc. and had a hard time keeping busy during the day, Ana created Girls Inc. activity packets that she mailed home to families. When girls and women in the community needed period products, Ana led efforts to collect and distribute menstrual and personal hygiene products to anyone in the community who needed them. When food was scarce for those in the community, Ana organized a “Fill a Girls Inc. Van” food drive and worked late, giving up her own time, to allow volunteers and community members the opportunity to drop off goods on their way home from work. As a result, Girls Inc. was able to deliver a full van of food to the local food drive!
During the holidays, Ana built a Walmart wish list so that every elementary school girl enrolled in Girls Inc. of the Valley would receive holiday gifts and wrapped many of the presents herself when the weather thwarted plans for volunteers to help with the process. On a Saturday before the holidays, Santa Ana and a team of volunteer elves delivered gifts to every household.
Ana, we are proud to celebrate your efforts and energy as you make such a difference to girls and families in your community!
Brings a lens of social justice to her work with girls
Wilmarie Reyes is a dedicated staff member at Girls Inc. of the Valley who consistently takes the time to engage girls in conversation and awareness building in the areas of social justice and racial equity, from taking time to process events like the siege at the Capitol in early January 2021 to planning a Halloween-themed lesson on cultural appropriation last fall. Wilmarie is a vocal advocate for women’s rights, reproductive justice and LGBTQ+ rights, and spends her free time exploring social media to learn from other activists and advocates to best support the girls she serves.
In addition to her demonstrated commitment to racial justice, Wilmarie has also gone above and beyond over the past year to support her girls during the pandemic, from helping girls and families get emergency financial support they needed to maintaining consistent communication with her core group of girls so they felt supported during this unprecedented time. Wilmarie cares deeply about the youth she serves and works continuously to put their interests and safety before all else.
Thank you, Wilmarie, for caring so deeply about the young people you serve and for sharing the breadth and depth of your knowledge on a multitude of issues. You are a role model for us all!
Bay County women leading the way
Girls Inc. of Bay County has many alumnae working on the front lines across the country and in their home state of Florida. We would like to celebrate two of those amazing women today: Ashbey Bragdon and Patience Alexander.
Patience, 25, attended Girls Inc. of Bay County from 5th grade until high school. She is a lead medical assistant in the Bay County community. She is also currently responsible for the day-to-day operation of one of the COVID-19 testing sites in her area, and has helped hundreds if not thousands of patients during this critical juncture.
Ashbey, 29, is a nurse and single mother who has been putting in 12 hours on the job supporting her patients all while going back to school for further studies. She started to attend Girls Inc. at the age of 6, eventually became a staff member of the organization, and now has a daughter who is a Girls Inc. girl. Ashbey’s mother, Denise, is also on staff at Girls Inc. and has been supporting girls in this capacity for 36 years!
Thank you for all you are doing, Patience and Ashbey!
Prepared for the frontlines
Meet Marizel, who attended Girls Inc. of New York City during high school with the dream of one day becoming a nurse like her aunt. “I was the first in my family to go to college, thanks to scholarships from Girls Inc. and Syracuse University. Today, I’m proud and grateful to be a nurse practitioner on my way to earning my doctorate in nursing while contributing to the COVID-19 response efforts.
“When the pandemic hit, I was assigned to a unit for patients who needed either palliative or rehabilitative care. Alongside the grief of delivering painful news to families, I cried happy tears with our recovered patients when they went home. Nothing could have prepared my colleagues and me for the past year’s losses, but as medical professionals, we relied on our training and leadership to care for our patients.”
Your leadership inspires us, Marizel! Thank you!
Demanding change in school
Several Girls Inc. of Carpinteria girls saw the need for change in their school and started Diversify Our Narrative Carpinteria, calling for increased diversity in the texts and literature they read in school as well as an anti-racism focus.
Laura, one of the organizers and founders of Diversify Our Narrative Carpinteria, says, “Girls Inc. was the first place where the words ‘cultural appropriation’ were brought up in any educational space for me. That was where I first learned about it, through open and honest conversations in a safe space. With Girls Inc., having those uncomfortable conversations was where we really learned about the power of our voices, and I can confidently say I wouldn’t be doing this right now if it wasn’t for Girls Inc.”
Isa, 17 and a Girls Inc. girl, shared her thoughts as well: “If I was never in Girls Inc., I would never have the confidence to do what I am doing now in my community. I wouldn’t have the skills, I wouldn’t know how to speak to these people. Girls Inc. inspired and shaped who I am now.”
Cheers to Laura and Isa along with Alitza, Ashley, Ana, and Sophia for being change-makers!
Holding on to Strong, Smart, and Bold
Dr. Stephanie Garcia is a native of Oakland, California and grew up seeing the inequities of healthcare and the effects of poverty and racism. She studied Public Health and Poverty as an undergraduate at University of California at Berkeley and she attended medical school at the University of California at San Francisco. She then went on to become an Emergency Medicine doctor and served on the frontlines for some of Brooklyn’s most vulnerable citizens at SUNY Downstate/ Kings County. Her interests lie in trauma, improving access to care, pipeline initiatives, and urban revitalization projects.
She is a board certified emergency medicine doctor at a major hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico and also works on the frontlines with Navajo Nation and along the Mexican border in California where the impact of COVID-19 has been tremendous.
Stephanie decided she wanted to be a doctor in junior high and explored STEM through the Girls Inc. Eureka! Program. Stephanie has held on to the mantra of being strong, smart and bold and is happy to mentor any young woman who is interested in pursuing medicine. Her guidance to girls: “Never let anyone tell you what you can’t do, believe in yourself! You have a lot to offer this world.”
We are so proud to share your contributions during Women’s History Month, Stephanie!
Eman reaching seniors
Meet Eman Khatri, who started The Connected Foundation with a friend during COVID-19 to help combat social isolation among seniors. With approximately 50 students from across the globe, The Connected Foundation provides educational programming, health advocacy via Zoom drives to navigate Medicare and to schedule doctor appointments, pen pal projects, as well as video call check-ins. “The goal of The Connected Foundation is to connect young students (high school and undergraduate) with senior citizens to make a meaningful, tangible impact. We have volunteer and team positions for community outreach, curriculum development, data collection and research, and much more. So far, we have been doing Zoom classes with senior centers in the Boston area. After receiving positive feedback, we decided to expand,” Eman says. Learn more about The Connected Foundation.
We are so honored to spotlight your work, Eman!
We are happy to highlight several of our Girls Inc. alumnae working across the various medical fields right now, providing support in schools, hospitals, our local communities, and on the front lines.
Kortney Unger Arnold, Family Nurse Practitioner
Nikki Hambalek Lamb, Registered Nurse
Candice Blue Short, Student Health Services Nurse
Rebecca Langley, Registered Nurse
Tarina Mabry Orr, Registered Nurse/Charge Nurse
Kelly Krause Stone, Nurse Practitioner
Fayne Murphy Sullivan, School Nurse
Stephanie Niu, Registered Nurse
Keisha Hayfron, Licensed Vocational Nurse
Gabby Aguilar-Perez, Nurse, Intensive Care Unit
Marizel Vasquez, Nurse Practitioner
Jackie Crowley, Nurse Manager
Karlie Schoenfelder Henderson, Nurse
Linh Le, Clinical Pharmacist
Leah Cha, Pharmacist
Stephanie Garcia, Emergency Medicine Doctor
Julie Barger Kleinpeter, Pharmacy Manager
Kendra Young Saine, Pharmacist
Christina Duong, Pharmacist
Mary Kimmerlin Daly, Doctor & Professor of Oncology
Lisandra Franco, Internal Medicine Residency
Gloria Felix Graham, Family Medicine Physician
Lori James Bryant, Pediatric Medicine
Tory Hunton, Physical Medicine Rehabilitation
Erin Sullivan Barthel, Hematology Oncologist
You are our sheroes! Women’s History Month is about the history you are making and honoring the work you do!