SCHENECTADY – Strong, smart and bold – that’s what Girls Inc. has inspired young women to be for over a century and a half.
Last week, the national non-profit organization’s Capital Region chapter kicked off its annual summer recreation camp for local girls in grades K-8. The six-week program at the Schenectady and Albany sites, which have served the community for more than 80 years, offers young girls the opportunity to participate in a variety of activities designed to foster the growth and development of the three qualities keys that Girls Inc. was built on.
Each week has a theme, the first being “having fun with STEM”, which focuses on various science experiments and how STEM is part of our daily lives. Another week this summer will involve exploring food chemistry, where lots of baking and cooking is planned so campers can learn how different ingredients affect their product. Creativity will be put to the test with the art-themed week, where girls can not only express their individuality, but also learn about the technical and scientific aspects of art.
These thematic activities are in addition to the classic summer camp activities such as excursions and swimming.
Ashli Fragomeni, who spent about 13 years at local YMCA sites as well as New Orleans before becoming executive director of Capital Region Girls Inc. sites in 2020, said their summer camp is the only program they offer that requires a fee to attend. .
This year, the cost of camp is $70 to $90 on a sliding scale based on household income. But Fragomeni takes pride in the fact that they are still providing it at a lower cost than what they charged before COVID-19, while providing meals for campers and providing exciting learning experiences.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, fees have been reduced. The camp charged $50 per week in 2021 and in 2020 the camp was offered free of charge.
“We always try to serve our community. Even though [summer camp] is our only fee-for-service program, [we’re] always trying to make sure childcare and summer camps in particular, which can be a huge cost to parents, are affordable,” Fragomeni said.
Girls Inc.’s efforts don’t stop when summer ends and school starts again.
Their free after-school care provides another opportunity for young girls to be immersed in a STEM-based curriculum, without burning a hole in their parents’ pockets.
The after-school program also includes activities outside of STEM specifically, such as leadership and community action, health and nutrition, sports and adventure, and computer literacy.
Many school districts ask Girls Inc. to visit their classrooms because they see how Girls Inc. creates programs that encourage female empowerment and build self-esteem.
Senior Director of Programs, Diana Suits, has been a driving force in coordinating the many culture experiences brought to Girls Inc.
Suits’ time with the organization began nearly a quarter century ago when she was in college. Her best friend at the time interned at the facility and encouraged Suits to become a summer camp counselor. So she did.
Suits worked as a counselor for a few years until she got her bachelor’s degree in physical education. She then began working part-time at Girls Inc. in Schenectady as a sports and adventure program specialist while simultaneously pursuing her master’s degree.
From then on, Suits stuck around and was eventually promoted to site manager, in which she oversaw specific programming at the Schenectady site. Suits has risen further through the ranks, where she currently serves as Director of Programs for the Schenectady and Albany locations.
His more than 20 years of hard work have not gone unnoticed. Although she joined the Girls Inc. family only a few years ago, Fragomeni quickly discovered Suit’s undeniable passion for her work.
“She really has seen it all, which is wonderful and fantastic. However, that doesn’t even hold a candle to the way she lights up when she sees a former student,” Fragomeni said.
Coming to Girls Inc. in the midst of the pandemic, Fragomeni is grateful to have been able to witness Suits’ unwavering reliability.
“With the past few years as trying as they have been, Diana has truly been a beacon and a testament to the fact that there is nothing we cannot go through,” Fragomeni said.
The strong bonds formed at Girls Inc. are very indicative of the kind of welcoming environment it offers.
“They [the girls] like the friends they can make with each other, friends from different schools that they normally wouldn’t have met if they hadn’t been there,” Suits said.
Along with these connections, Suits believes Girls Inc. stands out from other child care programs because their easily accessible programming is geared specifically towards women. It offers young women a welcoming environment to take on new challenges and be openly themselves.
“This [the Girls Inc. program] is where you come from and you are who you are. You don’t have to be someone else,” Suits said.
The Eureka program is another way Girls Inc. goes above and beyond when it comes to bringing high-quality programming to area youth. Interested girls enter the program the summer before eighth grade and attend a traditional summer camp on the UAlbany campus during the month of July.
After this initiation, they will progress through the five-year program with a mentor and be presented with internship opportunities that will help them decide which college and/or career path might interest them.
“We are really proud of the fact that we try to provide experiences and opportunities for girls in male-dominated fields, programs, activities, experiences, etc.,” Fragomeni said.
Honoring former Eureka members is also of utmost importance to Girls Inc staff.
“We not only work internally locally, but internally with our national network to make sure our alumni are showcased and people know about it. We have a woman who is an author who lives in New York and we want people to know that she came to Girls Inc. in Schenectady,” Fragomeni said.
The organization is delighted to hear from its former Eureka students in any capacity. Some of the adult girls say they were accepted into that college or trade school they wanted so badly to go to or that they got an internship. Some young women may also call Girls Inc. from college just to say they crush it in class and get outstanding grades.
The benefits of participating in a Girls Inc. program are endless.
Fragomeni wants Girls Inc. to become a household name to all parents and guardians in the Capital District. She knows that the dedicated team of staff who support their organization can make it happen.
“I’m excited for the future. I’m excited for our team and the way we’re moving forward and more importantly I’m excited for our girls,” Fragomeni said.
Fall registration for Schenectady and Albany’s free after-school programs begins September 1. Parents can find registration forms at https://girlsinccapitalregion.org/. Programs begin September 12.
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