When Jennifer Faust became CEO of Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara in January of this year, she brought with her over two decades of international policy experience, along with the advantage of having strong female role models growing up. She also had a vision for making sure every girl has the support she needs from the programs at Girls Inc. and the community to make sure their voices are heard, and they can lead wherever they choose to go. Jennifer benefitted from a supportive community during her journey as a female executive working in the male dominated field of global affairs and foreign policy, and most recently while being executive director of the Pacific Council on International Policy at University of Southern California. She wants to make sure the Girls Inc. girls also benefit from a supportive community that offers encouragement and equips them with the resilience and resources they need to become the future generations of women leaders.
Girls Inc. Inspires All Girls to Be Strong, Smart, and Bold
From its beginning in 1864, Girls Inc. national set out to do one thing, help girls become all they can be. The insightful women who founded Girls Inc. saw the need to support justice for girls after the Civil War. In 1958, Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara joined the network of national Girls Inc. organizations, which serves girls ages 5-18 at more than 1,500 sites in 350 cities across the United States and Canada. Girls Inc. Santa Barbara partners with 79 local affiliate organizations to focus on the needs of the whole girl. As Jennifer says, “If you can see it, you can be it.” So they use the national research and evidence-based curriculum to create the Girls Inc. Experience that helps girls understand what they need to do to lead successful lives, following the guidance of the Girls Inc. Bill of Rights.
Girls Inc. Meets Challenges of the Pandemic
Jennifer said that the COVID pandemic presented a host of challenges. The girls themselves – of every age – are suffering from a loss of socialization. Pre-kindergarten girls haven’t experienced early socialization and learned to interact in healthy ways with their peers. And older, tween, and teenaged girls have lost ground in their socialization as well – floundering amidst the negativity while trying to figure out what they should say and do. While Girls Inc. Santa Barbara’s participation numbers dropped from pre-pandemic levels of 1,200 girls annually, community needs rose up in unexpected ways. Girls Inc. Santa Barbara has been a trusted resource for the families of girls and the community for 65 years, and when families needed extra support, Girls Inc. became a lifeline for many of them. Jennifer said that when a family member would call a Girls Inc. facilitator they knew for help getting food, perhaps there were language problems, or maybe just lack of knowledge on where to go for help, “We would figure out how to get an Instacart® to them. Then we followed up with them and made sure that they were taken care of throughout that very scary time and into the future.”
Jennifer’s Vision for Girls Inc. and How You Can Help
The experience during the pandemic of families reaching out for help, and Jennifer’s international policy experience have merged into “a new more intentional advocacy for girls and being the voice for girls.” She said that, “it’s going to take the whole community to support the rights of girls…the whole family and the whole community. And that’s how we make systemic change in the world.” Instead of relying on legislation or bills being passed, Jennifer said that the entire community needs to be engaged because it’s the right thing to do for girls and “because it’s going to take us all to make a big difference.”
While donations of money are always welcome, Girls Inc. relies heavily on volunteers, so there are different opportunities to support Girls Inc. throughout the year:
- Refer a girl to Girls Inc. Programs (https://girlsincsb.org/programs/)
- Volunteer (60 people are needed to help with September’s Beautiful Girl 5K walk-run event)
- Stay tuned for announcements of more volunteer opportunities.
- Join the member community for Girls Inc. This is a new program that will provide member ambassadors who want to be part of what Girls Inc. is doing.
- Connect with Jennifer on LinkedIn to learn more.
Jennifer said that she has a bigger vision of how the local community connects to the regional, national and global communities. When you see an issue locally, girls are probably facing it elsewhere. Jen said, “We’re in a network of sisterhood here, you know, what changes we make here can have positive repercussions in other places as well.
Listen to or watch this conversation to learn more about Girls Inc., the grant award they won to extend services to girls in their 20’s, and more of Jennifer’s vision for the role of Girls Inc. organizations in California to be on the forefront of change.