GIM veteran steps up to guide growth

It didn’t take leaders at  Girls Inc. of Memphis long to choose someone to guide and manage the agency’s plans for growth. As an alumna of Girls Club (Girls Inc. precursor) and a veteran of more than three decades of working at every facility and in administration, the clear choice was Dora Brown Harris.

In her new role as Director of Growth and Expansion, Dora is the “woman behind the curtain,” focusing on growing and expanding the impact of Girls Inc. programming through in-school facilitation, primarily in South City (38126) and Frayser (38127).

Girls Inc. of Memphis’ growth work got a boost recently when the Memphis affiliate was awarded a $500,000 grant from Girls Inc. national to be used to grow all our programs, with an emphasis on expanding services in Frayser and South City.

Right off the bat, it’s worth letting Dora explain her longevity with the agency.

“Being at Girls Inc. was my foundation for everything,” she said. “My family couldn’t afford to send me to places like the ballet or on camping trips – cultural and life opportunities. Girls Inc. gave me those opportunities and it’s my passion to make sure girls today have those opportunities.”

Dora started at Girls Club at age 8, originally at the St. Thomas Center (in the old St. Thomas Catholic School on Trigg). After graduation from Carver High School in South Memphis, she worked part-time for the agency as a program specialist while attending classes at the University of Memphis.

She’s worked in some capacity at just about every physical space Girls Club/Girls Inc. has ever occupied. Assistant director then director at Lemoyne Gardens, roles at South Park Center, Frayser and LDT. She’s seen it all.

Recently, she’s served as Director of Training and Curriculum for the entire local affiliate. “I really like planning curriculum,” she says, “and designing programs.”

Her years with the organization and experience from so many vantage points mean she knows all the schools in South City and Frayser that are targets for growing and expanding Girls Inc.’s impact.

President and CEO Lisa Moore, feels Dora is the perfect fit for this vital position. What Dora will drive, Lisa says, is a core part of what Girls Inc. of Memphis is all about.

“The words ‘You Grow Girl’ are painted on the side of our Youth Farm storage container, and they are a mantra we use to symbolize our commitment,” Lisa said. “Commitment to providing girls an environment that allows them to grow; to a culture that sustains growth and development of our professional staff; and to growing our organization in order to establish and sustain growth in the girls we serve with impact.”

The goal for the Girls Inc. national grant funds is to serve nearly 1,500 new girls over the next two years, with 85 percent of that growth being overseen by Dora in Frayser and South City.

“This grant is an acknowledgement from our national organization that we are a strong affiliate with a strong plan for significant growth,” Lisa said. “Our growth will be a combination of meeting girls where they are in schools and anchoring communities with facilities and center-based programming in 38111, 38107, 38126 and 38127.”

Even with the emphasis on Frayser and South City, Lisa says that the organization is growing capacity at all its sites.

Currently, Dora oversees school-based programming in 9 schools, currently serving 250 girls with 50 hours of Girls Inc. programming per year.

To ensure the quality of the programming both in schools and at centers, Dora is currently overseeing the annual Strong-Smart-Bold Outcome Survey. The goal is to administer the survey to 250 girls from across all Girls Inc. of Memphis programs.

“It came from national, but folks from Memphis had a hand in developing the survey,” Dora said. “It helps us find out about girls and where they are, and what programs are the most needed.”

Dora raised a daughter – Marneissa Brown – who was a Girls Inc. girl from age 6 through high school and now lives in North Carolina. Dora  just completed her undergraduate degree in business administration from LeMoyne Owen College and is working on an MBA in HR management and management leadership from Webster University.

Looking back, Dora is most amazed thinking about the fact that she’s influenced two or three generations in her years at Girls Inc. And what satisfies her the most is watching a girl she’s worked with for years graduate high school or college.

“I had one come up to me the other night at dinner. She said, ‘Miss Dora, I had so much fun in Girls Inc.’”