Rhonda Mitchell got involved with Girls Inc. (then Girls Club) in 1970, when she was 6 or 7. Like lots of other girls, it opened up new worlds for her—but not necessarily because there was anything lacking in her life at home.
“While I had loving and strong parents, Girls Inc. was like the icing on the cake,” she said. “I had experiences there that I’ve shared with my daughters and with people I’ve encountered in my volunteer work.”
In her final year, she was a Girls Club Reader’s Digest Career Key Scholarship winner, and she attended the national conference in Seattle with other award winners. The scholarship was a highlight, to be sure, but her overall experience at Girls Inc. is what she remembers most.
“Some of my favorite activities were sports, field trips in Memphis, trips outside of the city and the college preparation sessions,” she said. “Girls Inc. offered me a bridge to move forward toward college and a career.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree in special education from Tennessee State University in 1986 and later earned her master’s in curriculum and instruction and an education specialist degree in curriculum and supervision, both from Union University in Jackson, Tenn. Her choice to focus her career on special education is likely connected in part to her Girls Inc. experiences.
“There were girls there who had special needs,” she says, “but they were not picked on by other girls because bullying was not okay there. Girls looked out for one another. I learned that caring for others is connected to the heart, not dollars.”
After 35 years in teaching, she’s still an active teacher in the Shelby County Schools system. She’s a lifelong member of her college sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, as well as being active in Iota Phi Lambda, a business and professional women’s organization committed to supporting students seeking to further their business and professional careers through the means of higher education.
While she always got along pretty easily with others, she says the exposure through Girls Inc. to a diverse group of people outside of her community helped her understand how to navigate in a larger environment that was constantly growing and changing in difficult times. She says she still uses what she learned in those years—through Project JIFFY (Jobs in the Future for You), etiquette classes and arts and crafts classes—with the girls in her school and in her volunteer work.
The “icing on the cake” that Rhonda says Girls Inc. provided her is still reflected in everything she does in professionally and in her community—and in the frame she uses to think about her life.
“Webster dictionary defines “life” as the sequence of physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual,” she says “So, “life” did not define me. I’m living proof that I define LIFE!”
Girls Inc. Alumna
Participant from 1970 to 1981