The Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland’s Empowering Women banquet is more than an annual fundraiser.
According to event chair Jenny Card and executive assistant Beth Kinsey, the event continues to result in more opportunities for the club’s female members.
Equal opportunities between male and female members were in short supply throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s. This was a result of decades of catering to young boys and teenagers across the nation.
It was not until 1991 that the Boys Clubs of America decided to open its doors to young female members. Work still needed to be done in each club as most of the activities tended to be traditionally masculine.
Janie Cooke noted the disparity between opportunities for boys and girls. She collaborated with board members and local female leaders to launch the first Empowering Women event four years ago.
“Now it has really turned around,” Kinsey said. “Because of Empowering Women, we are very strong in the girl opportunities now. Really, since all of that, the girls are not going to miss out.”
Only a minority of the girls will be in attendance at the Thursday night event.
Empowering Women is not meant to cater to the children of the club. Rather, it is meant to highlight the importance of females making a difference in their community and throughout the world.
A byproduct of the event is recognition of how important it is to pour into the lives of young females today in order to create a brighter, stronger future.
There has been increased female participation by community members since the creation of Empowering Women.
A number of female-focused programs have also launched at the local clubs:
- Smart Girls, which focuses on everything from life skills to resistance skills to self-worth;
- A girls business program allows mentors like Debbie Melton of Don Ledford Automotive to address the girls in person;
- A leadership program divided by gender;
- Stride Academy helps the children meet the Common Core State Standards;
- Positive Action is a character development group; and
- Money Matters is a financial literacy program.
Kinsey said the programs allow girls to see outside of their own situations.
“They have an eye-opening experience because they have no idea what is out there. They don’t even know what they want out of their lives,” Kinsey said. “If they are in the housing project, they may not know the better that is out there. Sure, they see it on shows, but they don’t really believe the television.”
Continued Kinsey, “They think the housing project is all there is for them. They need to spend time with an empowered woman.”
Card, who has taken over for Cooke, said the event acts as an opportunity to gain more awareness for the needs of girls. Increased opportunities and positive role models lead to a better sense of self-worth and increased confidence.
“It is all about that opportunity and pathway to say, ‘Hey, you can do this,’” Card said. “Even if [they] don’t have a supportive mom or dad at home, we are going to help [them].”
She explained banquet keynote speaker Tina Wesson is an excellent example for the young girls.
“She is just a normal person from Knoxville,” Wesson said. “And look at what she has done.”
Kinsey said there are a lot of factors the club staff members and volunteers are going up against in the young members’ lives.
“It doesn’t matter if you are low income, high income, middle income — self-esteem for a girl is so huge on the decisions they make,” she said. “[They need to] feel strong enough to make the decision they need to make, not the one a boy thinks they need to make or one a girlfriend thinks they need to do.”
Empowering Women will take place Thursday night. Several individual tickets at $150 a piece are still available for those interested in attending. Call 423-559-8299 for more information.