Empowering the ‘Whole Girl’: An Interview with Girls Inc. Executive Director

Megan Trevarthen, Board member and co-chair of Levé’s Marketing and Communications Committee, sat down with Elizabeth Nye, Executive Director of Girls Inc. of the Pacific Northwest, to talk about Girls Inc. and why she is excited for the Levé partnership this year.

Elizabeth Nye is a visionary who believes that all girls in the Pacific Northwest deserve to access experiences to equip them to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers and to grow into healthy, educated and independent adults. Elizabeth knows first-hand about the barriers women and girls face to accessing these opportunities.

Growing up as a Portland native, Elizabeth was the first woman on her mother’s side to pursue higher education. After graduating from St. Mary’s Academy, she received her undergrad at Georgetown University before earning a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University. She has personal experience watching the strong, smart and bold women in her family unable to fully realize their full professional potential or become economically-independent, which is the reason the Girls Inc. mission is so important to her. She sees those same barriers to opportunity mirrored in many of the lives of girls her organization serves. Girls Inc. seeks to fill in those gaps and provide access to professional role models to inspire girls to fulfill their potential.

“My grandmother never went past an 8th grade education and raised five children. My mother married at 18, had kids after graduating high school, and worked as a secretary when she really wanted to be an interior designer,” said Elizabeth. “There were limited career options available to women during those generations. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up because I had no professional women in my network. Our job at Girls Inc. is to show these girls what is out there for them.”

When I think about what Levé does to give back to the community and engage citizens—that is what I want for our girls. I can’t think of better role models for them.”
— Elizabeth Nye, Girls, Inc.

According to Elizabeth, what keeps her up at night is that Girls Inc. has programming at their fingertips, yet more demand across the state than they can currently meet. To reach as many girls as possible, Girls Inc. is moving away from the traditional center-based model to a unique outreach approach, making transportation and access less of an issue for girls in need. Girls Inc.’s focus on serving the “whole girl” is largely achieved through programming such as the popular community-based Girls Groups, as well as mentorship and experiences. Elizabeth is quick to acknowledge the importance of training volunteers to deliver the same efficacy and standards across all programs.

“Every program we facilitate, we try to build in something that challenges the girls.” Elizabeth said. “There are so many messages for girls not to take risks, but we want them to know that they can try something new and be successful. Whether that’s snowboarding or going to Powell’s for the first time, we want to get them out of their comfort zone in a way that still makes them feel safe, supported, and confident.”

The need for creating safe, supportive spaces for girls remains critical, as young women deserve the opportunity to develop their own sense of self outside of toxic cultural norms that devalue and objectify women. Girls Inc. takes on some of the big issues facing girls today in a few notable ways:

  • Bullying and harassment are top concerns for women and girls. Through programs like Allies In Action, girls learn how to positively navigate social situations and overcome relational aggression.
  • The Media Literacy program increases girls’ awareness of the scope and power of the media and the effects of media messages on girls and women.
  • Girls Inc. extends girls' voices, issues, and concerns to policy makers, corporations, and the media. The Girls' Bill of Rights serves as the foundation for Girls Inc. - shaping responses to the difficult social issues facing girls.
  • Eureka! is a five year program that brings 8th - 12th grade girls, including many who will be first generation college applicants, onto local college and university campuses for an intensive STEM summer program.

You can spend hours reading through Girls Inc.’s direct service offerings; however, Elizabeth reminds us that one of the most important ways to be champions for girls is to be a positive role model and simply be there for them.

“These girls are so excited that people just want to have a conversation with them,” Elizabeth said. “Some of them have told me they’ve never had a birthday party. They’ll say to me ‘I can’t believe you remembered my name.’ It may seem like nothing to you, but you can’t realize the impact it has to just spend time with them. Many of the girls just don’t get enough interaction with positive adult role models.”

It’s easy to see why we at Levé are so excited about the natural fit of our partnership with Girls Inc. this year. As an all-women professional organization, the idea of lifting up girls to realize their full potential and grow up to be successful, confident, and healthy women is inspiring and powerful.

“There is so much about philanthropy I want the girls to learn from Levé,” Elizabeth said. “When I think about what Levé does to give back to the community and engage citizens - that is what I want for our girls. I can’t think of better role models for them.”

So how can you get more involved with Girls Inc.? Let us count the ways!