Library archive preserves Girls Inc. history

Our recent President’s Reception on Jan. 16 was a chance to honor some of our most steadfast supporters – the leaders on our Board of Directors and past recipients of our Celebration Luncheon awards. We celebrated our history by presenting the new Girls Inc. of Memphis archive at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.  

Former Celebration Luncheon awardee Gina Neely (third from left) with Sonya Fleming and her daughters Jamaya and Saniyah

It was also a chance to hear from past President Patricia Howard, one of the event speakers, who retired in 2016 after a career with Girls Inc. that spanned 50 years, in Memphis and at the national level.

“I’ve always felt that Girls Inc. has been a part not just of youth development in Memphis, but also part of other movements as well, including civil rights,” Patricia says. “The archive answers a lot of questions. I think it’s important for board and staff to know where this organization came from.”

And Patricia would know – a graduate of Manassas High School, she started working at what was then Girls Club in 1966 as part of a work study program while attending Rhodes (formerly Southwestern) College.

After college she helped open and run the LeMoyne-Bellevue location and then helped run the St. Thomas location at Trigg and Lauderdale, eventually landing in administration. After a year-long fellowship doing independent study focused on training design for youth development she came back to the organization as administrative director.

She left Girls Inc. briefly, to take a job with Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, only to be recruited back to Girls Inc. when the executive director resigned. In 2003 she went to work for the national organization as a regional director, sharing her expertise in leadership and program development with three-fourths of affiliates across the country. She retired in 2016.

She once told Lisa Moore, president and CEO, “‘I ought to come back for you as a receptionist.’ She got really excited. Then I had to tell her I was kidding!”

Speakers at the event included Sylvia Martinez, vice president of programs, and Sonya Fleming, a Girls Inc. alumnus with two daughters, Jamaya and Saniyah, who have been involved with Girls Inc.

For her part, Patricia says she tried to convey what she sees as the key to what we now refer to as the Girls Inc. Experience.

“Whatever we were doing, we always listened to the girls,” Patricia said. “It’s the example you have with the girls that makes the difference. And the culture of what the organization is today is in that archive.”

You can check out the Girls Inc. of Memphis archive by heading to the fourth floor of the Benjamin L. Hooks Central library and inquiring at the desk in front of the Memphis Room.