Girls Incorporated of Greater Santa Barbara held its 10th Annual Celebration Luncheon last week, honoring women and girls in the community and their book series, Letters from the Heart and More Letters from the Heart.

Several hundred ladies — and some gentlemen — gathered at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort for lunch and inspiration from keynote speakers: award-winning author and actress Fannie Flagg and Julie Foudy, an Olympic gold medalist in soccer and ESPN commentator.

Founded 50 years ago as the Girls Club, Girls Incorporated of Greater Santa Barbara is an affiliate of the national nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be “strong, smart and bold.” Through educational, research-based programs, activities and advocacy, Girls Inc. offers girls ages 5-18 with opportunities to experience success as they prepare to lead independent and fulfilling lives.

A stand-up comedienne, Flagg re-introduced herself as “strong, smart and very very old” but added that she was “thrilled to be the age she is.” She recounted growing up in Alabama in the 1940s and ‘50s which she said “was not a good time to grow up as a girl.” She continued with her comical life story as a determined seven-time contestant in the Miss Alabama contest (in which she finally won second place). She garnered a scholarship to a drama school in Pittsburgh and later landed a job on a local TV station in 1965. As “co-host” she had to make coffee, put out the doughnuts and type the scripts — for $50 a month. Her male co-host made $750 a month.

Flagg left for New York City and was hired as a writer for Allen Funt’s Candid Camera and later became a regular performer on the popular TV show. She cleverly would write characters, such as female police officers and airline pilots, into the script, which she would then perform on the air. Flagg later made her film acting debut in Five Easy Pieces (1970) with Jack Nicholson. In 1987 she penned the popular book Fried Green Tomatoes. Four years later she turned the novel into the film of the same name. The movie was a popular hit and netted Flagg an Oscar nomination in her screenwriting debut.

“I was a high school cheerleader,” she said. “We cheered male football and basketball teams and didn’t have any competitive sports for girls ourselves. I like the idea of Girls Inc. and cheerleading these girls on to success and leadership opportunities. I wish someone would have cheered for me.”

Foudy — the former USA women’s soccer team captain, two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time World Cup champion — spoke about her travails as an athlete. She had been accepted into the Stanford University School of Medicine but decided not to pursue a career in medicine.

She started in women’s competitive sports when it was just beginning to open up to women. She remembered trying to convince her dad that it was worth taking time off of work to see her play soccer in the Beijing Olympics! She described the many types of leadership she experienced in her Olympic teammates: some quiet, reserved, yet effective like Mia Hamm and Joy Fawcett and her own personal style, which she said others have described as “loudy Foudy.”

Foudy was inducted in the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2007, alongside Hamm, her longtime teammate and friend. Foudy and Hamm were only the sixth and seventh women to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and the first ever all-female induction class.

In 2006, Foudy founded the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy, which is a unique residential camp experience that uses sports as the vehicle to teach leadership skills for life. She also founded the Julie Foudy Leadership Foundation that empowers young women from all socioeconomic backgrounds to become leaders who have a positive impact on their communities.

Both Flagg and Foudy signed books and soccer balls after the luncheon.

The event’s Champion sponsor was Deckers Outdoor Corp., which donated $10,000. Other top sponsors were Nancy Crawford, Elizabeth Kilb, Kristin and Bill Loomis, Bui and Herb Simon, and Stephanie Wilson. Pat Jones and Barbara Levi co-chaired the event with help from committee members Stephanie Ball, Charles Caldwell, Beth Cleary, Phyllis Cox, Rennie Kelly, Andrea Lloyd, Annamarie Paolino, Girls Inc. executive director Monica Spear, Joanna Strange, Yolanda Van Wingerden, Stephanie Wilson and Sheila Zimmerman.

An especially touching moment was when Girls Inc. alumna Selena Nakano spoke. Nakano said she matched the Girls Inc. profile of a low-income family growing up in Santa Barbara. She was raised single-handedly by her grandfather who needed help when he was working.

“Girls Inc. gave me a safe place to go after school,” she said. “It helped me develop a backbone to say no to peer pressure and risky behaviors. Words are powerful and have consequences.

“Girls Inc. gave me a purposeful vision for myself. They really helped me.”

Nakano earned a doctorate in educational psychology at Arizona State University and is now a child psychologist who wants to empower other girls and boys to be “strong smart and bold.”

Click here for more information on Girls Incorporated of Greater Santa Barbara, or call Beth Cleary at 805-963-4757 x10 or email Click here to make an online donation. Connect with Girls Incorporated of Greater Santa Barbara on Facebook.

Noozhawk contributing writer Rochelle Rose can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.