NASHUA — Girls Inc. tweaked the traditional lineup of pumpkin painting, caramel apples and sack races and added a little hip-hop line dancing to Saturday's fall festival at the Burke Street Girls Center, the spot the organization hopes will become a permanent home.
Since the '70s, Girls Inc. has offered a variety of programs for girls in Nashua, first as the Girls Club and then as Girls Inc., a name chosen during the '90s to reflect the serious business of supporting and mentoring young girls. Girls Inc. has leased the John Collins Community Center for $1 a year from the Nashua Housing Authority, but the organization wants to buy and renovate the building to accommodate its expanding slate of programs, which includes a new day-care center and an evening meal program.
"The Nashua Housing Authority only extends the lease for five years," said Cathy Duffy-Cullity, executive director of Girls Inc. New Hampshire.
And while it can't beat the rent, Girls Inc. wants to make major repairs to the building, including updating the heating system and repairing a leaky roof. But to raise the money for those jobs, the organization thought it should first own the building.
It hopes to raise $250,000 to complete the sale and then launch a fundraising campaign for capital improvements.
Although it may take some time, Girls Inc. has a lot of friends in Nashua who value the services and support the organization provides for the city.Girls Inc. has traditionally followed the interest and needs of the girls in specific communities. In Nashua, girls can sign up for programs in fashion design, auto mechanics, cooking, sports and technology. And they can paint pumpkins and dance at special event like the fall festival.But programs and events are only one slice of Girls Inc.
"It's all about relationships," said Duffy-Cullity, who said the organization offers a safe place to explore new ideas and friendships. Girls can share their feelings, problems and aspirations with one another and with staff and volunteers."Girls want a place to belong," said Stephanie Therrien, the regional director for Nashua. "Girls don't always have a chance to make friends because they are shy or just don't have the social skills. Here they make friendships that will last a lifetime."
The relationships and support give girls an anchor in today's world of sexting, e-bullying and the constant onslaught of media messages about how girls should look and act.
"The most valuable gift Girls Inc. gives them is a sense of confidence," said Mary Mattson, vice president of Bank of New Hampshire and a member of the organization's board of directors.
For Mattson, who volunteered to help with Saturday's festival, Girls Inc. plays a key role in personal development.
"The focus is on spiritual growth and the ability to believe in themselves," she said.
Former Nashua Mayor Maurice Arel, a longtime Girls Inc. supporter and member of the board, put it differently.
"A girl will come through the door and she'll leave feeling like a million bucks," said Arel, who credits the staff for its passionate involvement with the girls.
And they offer opportunities to build leadership skills and to volunteer to help others. Therrien said the Girls Inc. staff and volunteers provide role models that show girls how treat one another and how to use their time and talent for things that have meaning and purpose."That's how we do things," said Therrien. "We're like a family."