Fourteen years ago, Pat Wachtel sat on the floor of the Fountain Square Girls Inc. club, eating peanut butter and jelly and chatting with elementary school girls about her job in banking. Today, that club no longer exists, but Wachtel is CEO of Girls Inc. of Indianapolis, where she oversees a restructuring that's making the Indy branch unique among the national organization's affiliates.
Girls Inc.'s mission is to "inspire all girls to be smart, strong and bold." They deliver this through age-appropriate, educational programs based on the latest research. Their classes aim to counteract what Wachtel calls the "frightening messages our culture sends" to girls about female gender roles, sexuality and body image. Girls Inc. programs include "Economic Literacy," "Redefining Beauty" and "Will Power, Won't Power," and are based on discussion and experiential learning, she says.
"We're not telling girls what to think,'' Wachtel says. "We're helping them learn how to think.''
Wachtel came to Girls, Inc. in 2007 following a career in banking, including 11 years managing Irwin Mortgage Corp.'s foundation giving to non-profits, including Girls Inc. When she became CEO, Girls Inc. was at "the end of the club era," Wachtel says. Its programs are traditionally based in club buildings with gymnasiums and space for after-school activities. The Indy branch operated clubs in Fountain Square and the mid-Northside.
"Having our own buildings was a wonderful thing, but it was also limiting,'' she says. "Our peak capacity was 600. There are 100,000 girls in the four counties we can serve, so we weren't meeting our mission statement of serving all girls." Money to build clubs in other neighborhoods wasn't available and attendance is difficult for girls without transportation, so the group's Indy board decided to explore a new type of outreach: the hub model.
The approach brings Girls Inc. programs to multiple institutions in target neighborhoods. Partners include schools, libraries, community centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, Girl Scout troops and other non-profit organizations. The model allows for a dramatic increase in the number of girls served. Girls Inc. of Indianapolis has six hubs, with six more to open in the next two years. After 2010, they intend to expand into Hamilton, Boone and Hendricks counties. The model provides the double benefit of establishing programs within walking distance of more girls and the financial savings of making use of existing resources. "We have not had one potential partner turn us down," Wachtel says. "Everyone sees value in that opportunity."
Girls Inc.'s national organization is looking at this unique model as a possible approach for other cities. Wachtel believes the community cooperation benefits partners as well as Girls Inc. "It's important to recognize what each of us do best," she says. "When we admire and partner with others' strength, the community is a winner and that is such a stronger thing than any of us alone."