Girls Inc. of Metro Denver offers young women a “safe space” to learn about the world and themselves

A field trip through 13-year-old Ashley Arango’s girls-only after-school program was the catalyst that sparked the Denver teen’s new career goal: becoming a pilot.

“We went to United (Airlines) and got to do their flight simulators,” Arango said. “I was sitting next to my friend, and she turned to me and said we could be co-pilots together. That’s what we want to do now.”

Arango has been a part of Girls Inc. of Metro Denver since she was 6 years old. The Denver group is an affiliate of the national Girls Inc. organization, offering “girls-only, pro-girl” programming for 80 years across the country and 35 years locally.

Situated in the West Colfax neighborhood, the Girls Inc. building serves about 2,300 girls, teens and young adults each year, ranging from gals heading into first grade all the way through college. Girls involved get picked up from their schools and driven to the Girls Inc. building around 4 p.m. There, they get free meals and programming for a couple hours.

Participants learn entrepreneurial skills and self-advocacy, as well as how to sexual violence and harassment. And they can apply for additional programs that include mentorship, tutoring and more.

Arango is involved in the organization’s Eureka! program, a five-year STEM-based intensive that builds girls’ confidence and skills in science, technology, engineering and math in a girls-only environment.

“It gives girls an opportunity to learn things they usually wouldn’t learn in school, and you get to do experiments,” Arango said. “I feel really happy here. I want to do all the things because I know they can support me in my learning and emotionally.”

Sara Hazel, director of development at Girls Inc., said it’s obvious when stepping inside the building — which she calls a “safe space” — that creating an environment just for girls works. The organization also partners with about 20 schools a year in Denver and beyond to offer their programming on-site.

“We know girls learn differently than boys,” Hazel said. “We know when girls are in a space that’s just their own, they’re going to learn more and thrive and grow and take these opportunities.”

For solid proof, Hazel loves looking at the numbers, too.

In 2017, 90 percent of the students enrolled in Girls Inc. of Metro Denver didn’t get suspended. One hundred percent weren’t expelled or arrested, according to the organization. The 2017 survey also found that 92 percent of Denver’s Girls Inc. students found science and math interesting and 88 percent felt there were adults in the program they could depend on. The Denver organization found 73 percent of its girls were happy with their bodies, compared to 48 percent nationally.

“We try to disrupt the narrative that many girls get in their daily lives that they have limited capacity,” said Sonya Ulibarri, president and CEO of Girls Inc. of Metro Denver. “We do programs that provides girls with messages, images, stories of all that they can accomplish in their lives and all the options and opportunities that exist for their futures.”

Name: Girls Inc. of Metro Denver

Address: 1499 Julian St., Denver

In operation since: 1983

Number of Employees: 30

Annual budget: $1,766,684

Percentage that goes directly to client services: 88 percent

Number of clients served in 2018: 2,429 girls and youth served in fiscal year 2018 (Sept. 1, 2017-Aug. 31, 2018)


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