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October 24, 2016 VIEWPOINT

Women must continue to mentor, take risks

Victoria Waterman

Worcester has secured its place in history as part of the women's rights movement, beginning with the first National Women's Rights Convention held here in 1850. That tradition continues more than 260 years later, as Girls Inc. of Worcester marks its centennial anniversary, as one of the oldest girl-serving organizations in our city.

Over the past 100 years, what was once the Worcester Girls Club, Girls Inc. has served as a home away from home for many girls – and those alumni have become women leaders, many of whom have made significant contributions in our community. Researching the history for our centennial has reinforced two truths: 1) Although the types of programs and faces of the girls have changed, the Girls Inc. mission has stayed the same, and 2) The organization has been sustainable and relevant because of outstanding women pioneers and leaders who believed each girl should be given the opportunity to thrive and be successful regardless of economic status or academic ability.

Just as the founding fathers of our country who scribed the Bill of Rights, our founding mothers had the same wisdom and foresight to create “The Girls Bill of Rights” in 1936. It proclaimed rights that were relevant at that time such as, “Girls have the right to find somewhere in her community, wise and understanding guidance by friendly adults.” Today's version reflects empowering statements such as “Girls have the right to take risks, to strive freely and to take pride in success.” What remains consistent is the foundation to invest and empower girls and young women.

We owe our history to trailblazers such as Emma D. Harris, who donated her home on Lincoln Street to serve as a clubhouse for the working girls in 1916. She made this generous offer contingent on a small but mighty group of women coming together to raise $60,000 in just two months for renovations. All in an effort to provide ethical, educational and social advantages to girls from low-income families. As a result, the Worcester Girls Club was born, and Harris's legacy and place in history was forever marked as a philanthropist, community organizer and visionary leader.

Outstanding women leaders, understand their responsibility to build the next generation of leaders. That effective leadership includes using the greatness in others and honoring the trailblazers who came before us. For the past 100 years, Girls Inc. of Worcester has carried on the traditions of each of these women, providing girls the opportunity to overcome obstacles to improve their well-being and success.

In this issue, Worcester Business Journal will once again recognize the achievements of a select group of strong, talented and remarkable women who are making their mark on the Central Massachusetts business community. How these women progress on the path to this point may be different for each, the one common thread is their passion to pay it forward and contribute to their communities. They are truly examples of women who have the right to take risks, to strive freely, and to take pride in their success.

Victoria Waterman is CEO of Girls Inc. of Worcester, who also serves as tri-chair of Investing in Girls Alliance, executive leader of YouthConnect and is a member of the Women's Initiative of United Way of Central Massachusetts.

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