At the foot of Hillside Park, in the historic former home of an early 20th-century United States general, the city's future is brewing.
Tossing away sugar and spice to favor strength, smarts and boldness, Girls Inc. of Santa Fe is helping redefine what it means to be a girl in the City Different. The organization, an affiliate of the national Girls Inc. nonprofit, has been guiding young Santa Feans since 1956, and its recent growth has been meteoric. In the past few years, Girls Inc. of Santa Fe has all but doubled its impact—in 2016, it served 525 girls downtown at its Hillside Center and offsite. In 2018, it reached 1,000. It comes as no surprise to us, then, that Girls Inc. won SFR's Best of Santa Fe award for Best Youth Program in 2018.
"We really didn't advertise for that much at all," Madonna Hernandez, the Girls Inc. director of programs, tells SFR, in regards to BOSF. The organization sent out just one call to action email the day before voting closed. "What we're finding is that everybody knows a Girls Inc. girl. We have made a name for ourselves out in the community, and the fact that we're doing good work really does pay off."
The group offers after-school, spring break and summer camp programs for girls ages 5 to 18 at its Hillside Center. The programming, developed by the Girls Inc. National Resource Center and other organization affiliates, is research-based, with learning supported by arts and crafts, field trips, community projects and special mentoring. Girls learn about topics such as Santa Fe's culture and heritage, budgeting and financing, healthy sexuality and body image.
And each represents an investment in the next Santa Fe. The organization keeps costs low, spending about $5.50 per girl per hour, and no one is turned away due to an inability to pay, which means most participants receive a scholarship to attend.
"We're prepared to continue expanding our programs, and my hope is that the community, which has been so supportive, continues to support us in a way that we can make a bigger and bigger impact," Girls Inc. CEO Kim Brown tells SFR. "I would love for young women, when they graduate from high school and go to college, to be able to say that growing up in Santa Fe was so pro-girl, it was such a good place to grow up being a girl. And I don't think we can say that right now, but we should be able to say that, and I think we're on our way."
Brown has been with the nonprofit since 2005. In that time, she's watched the staff grow from three full-time employees to 16. When she first joined the team, the group only operated out of its downtown center, and it now offers programming and workshops at 15 local schools as well as two nearby pueblos.
You may have caught Girls Inc. girls conquering local hiking trails, wielding signs at women's marches or rappelling down the side of La Fonda on the Plaza during hair-raising fundraisers. Whatever they're up to, one thing's clear: These girls can't be stopped, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
"Girls have so much power," Hernandez says. "I really feel like if our girls are supported and they're able to recognize how to treat each other and how to advocate for other people and for themselves, that in itself would totally be able to shift the way that things happen within the world and our community."