Girls Inc. student Tasia Wright, when she appeared before the more than 300 people at the annual awards ceremony, probably relayed the day’s theme best.
“I’m not trying to be perfect anymore. I’m just trying to be me,” she said.
A handful of students during the entertainment portion of the “She Knows Where She’s Going” annual luncheon read from essays they had written in a Girls Inc. creative writing class called “Your Voices.” The subject of the essay was to write anything they wanted. With her essay, Wright said she’d tried to be perfect but eventually discovered that she isn’t perfect on the outside, but is on the inside.
She does the best she can, and at 14 years old, she has lost her mother, as well as a friend who was lost to gang violence, and more, she said.
Girls Inc. has played a role in her life. It is an organization that provides role models to mostly low-income children. Thursday’s luncheon was the 25th anniversary luncheon of the group having a home in Polk County. It has permanent facilities in Bartow and Lakeland.
The success of the program was repeated to those who attended the luncheon at the Lakeland Center. It helps girls stay on the path of education and teaches them there is something there for them.
“The girls have calibrated them and they know where they are,” said Stacie Rine, with National Aircraft Finance Co., in noticing how the girls have reacted.
What it means to the girls who attend, said Chandra Frederick, a teacher at the Bartow facility and the organization’s operations manager — when she took the stage with fellow Girls Inc. member Brionne Riles, now a student at FAMU — that once Girls Inc. gets into your being, walking away isn’t an option. She was a member as a student and now is a teacher in the program.
“I can’t walk away from it now,” she said. “When you see them get off that bus you realize how important this is.”
Each year Girls Inc. nominates eight people who could win the “She Knows Where She’s Going” award. This year’s nominees were Melony Bell, Jacqueline M. Byrd, Donna Drisdom, Cindy Green, Sonya Holland, Deloris Johnson, Chrissiane Long and Amy Summerlin, each receiving a plaque. Winning the award this year was Lakeland Highland Middle School’s Drisdom, Furr & Wegman Architect’s Cindy Green and Deloris Jonson from Agricultural and Labor Program Inc. As excited they were to receive the award, perhaps the award recipient that showed the most happiness and surprise was Jodi Kusley, the winner of the George W. Jenkins Volunteer Award.
Kusley has volunteered for the last nine years at the Lakeland facility and teaches creative writing and spends much of her time with the girls doing activities.
“She is the greatest ambassador we have,” said Kay Fields, the president and CEO of Girls Inc. “She epitomizes what Mr. George Jenkins believed in — giving back to your community.
In another award, two girls who are finishing high school this year, won $500 scholarships. Those were Taylor Carlton and Briesha Callins.
Finally, in perhaps what may be the best award given, Bill Tinsley, who was the chairman of the Pig Fest competition in which Girls Inc. students helped raise money, presented the organization with a check for $18,951.
Being a partner in the Pig Fest for 19 years, this past year, Tinsley said the students put in 490 hours, pointing out that the temperature was 32 degrees for two nights when it was held.
Fields was most pleased with the presentation and pointed out how desperately the organization can use the money.
“And, it’s already been spent,” she said.