Monday, December 18 , 2017, 9:17 am | Fair 54º

 
 
 
 

Girls Inc. of Carpinteria Provides Young Women with a Eureka! Moment for a Brighter Future

College-bound program’s first graduating class all taking advantage of higher education many thought they’d never have

Participants from the first cohort of Girls Inc. of Carpinteria’s Eureka! Program sport their college T-shirts during a group photo opportunity earlier this year, before they all headed off to college. Click to view larger
Participants from the first cohort of Girls Inc. of Carpinteria’s Eureka! Program sport their college T-shirts during a group photo opportunity earlier this year, before they all headed off to college. (Girls Inc. of Carpinteria photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: First in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation.]

Homework help led Lupita Echeverria to Girls Inc. of Carpinteria. For Maria Zamora, it was the promise of college.

Together with 10 other young women, they represent the first graduating cohort of the nonprofit organization’s Eureka! Program, which sent 100 percent of its participants to colleges and universities last fall.

“My parents always told me, ‘Go to school. Get an education. You’ll be fine,’” said Zamora, now a freshman at the University of San Francisco.

“I thought they meant high school. I didn’t know anything beyond high school. I didn’t know what college was.”

Girls Inc. is a national, nonprofit organization with more than 80 affiliates throughout the United States and Canada. Its mission: to inspire girls to be strong, smart and bold.

“We teach girls to be strong by taking charge of their health, to possess the knowledge and develop an attitude to sustain healthy lifestyles,” said Jessica Wetzel, programs director for Girls Inc. of Carpinteria.

“We teach them to be smart by being academically engaged, providing life experiences, helping them understand opportunities available for their futures. And to be bold by becoming socially and emotionally intelligent for productive lives.

“We approach the whole girl so she can be smart, strong and bold, so she can be economically self sufficient.”

While the national organization brings its affiliates together for special programs and research, Girls Inc. of Carpinteria focuses its efforts on southern Santa Barbara County and northern Ventura County.

Originally established in the mid-1970s in a house on Carpinteria’s Maple Street, the local program’s growth — and community support — resulted in the move to its 5315 Foothill Road campus across from Carpinteria High School.

Programs there now include an after-school program providing targeted academic support, homework help, enrichment programs, healthy lifestyle programs, STEM programming, sports and adventure programming, arts enrichment and cultural awareness programs.

Eureka! Program alumna Lupita Echeverria wants to become a human resources manager or a marketing manager. “It’s been, honestly, one of the best choices I made because I’ve gotten so many great experiences and opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” the first-year Santa Barbara City College student says of the program. Click to view larger
Eureka! Program alumna Lupita Echeverria wants to become a human resources manager or a marketing manager. “It’s been, honestly, one of the best choices I made because I’ve gotten so many great experiences and opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” the first-year Santa Barbara City College student says of the program. (Girls Inc. of Carpinteria photo)

In addition, Girls Inc. provides in-school programs for the Carpinteria Unified School District, such as healthy sexuality programming, child abuse prevention, and literacy programs for kindergarten through third grade.

Girls Inc. serves nearby Rincon High School and offers its Bold Futures Mentoring Project in Santa Paula. Additional programs focus on services for girls in the juvenile justice system.

“In Girls, Inc., they teach you that anything is possible, that because of your hard work, you end up getting the opportunities,” Zamora explained.

“It’s not that you’re guaranteed anything. There aren’t handouts, but there are hand-ups. It’s up to you to take advantage of the opportunities you’re given.”

Zamora joined the Eureka! Program after seeing a presentation at school. The college-bound program exposes girls in eighth through 12th grade to career opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math; personal development workshops; sports and adventure opportunities; monthly career-themed mixers; panel discussions; an advocacy trip to Washington, D.C.; and a retreat.

“It’s a pretty intensive program,” Wetzel said. “The girls put a lot in, make a big commitment. We provide them meaningful experiences funded by a variety of supporters, donors.

“We’d love to expand our program.”

Currently, 65 young women in five cohorts are committed to the five-year Eureka! Program that provides exposure to various opportunities, including college tours, summer college residence programs and internships at local businesses, as well as guidance through the sometimes bewildering college application and scholarship process.

“I’d been a part of the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, but I knew it wasn’t enough,” Zamora noted. “I knew I needed more. I felt like I was at a disadvantage because I didn’t know about college early in my life.”

Eureka! Program cohort graduates, from left, Lisset Chavez of CSU Bakersfield, Maria Zamora of the University of San Francisco and Karen Nunez of the University of San Diego. “In Girls, Inc., they teach you that anything is possible, that because of your hard work, you end up getting the opportunities,” Zamora says. “It’s up to you to take advantage.” Click to view larger
Eureka! Program cohort graduates, from left, Lisset Chavez of CSU Bakersfield, Maria Zamora of the University of San Francisco and Karen Nunez of the University of San Diego. “In Girls, Inc., they teach you that anything is possible, that because of your hard work, you end up getting the opportunities,” Zamora says. “It’s up to you to take advantage.” (Girls Inc. of Carpinteria photo)

Through Girls, Inc., she served an internship at the Carpinteria Valley Chamber of Commerce, visited the nation’s capital and discovered her passion for volunteerism.

A full-ride scholarship to USF removed the financial roadblocks to Zamora’s dream of studying international politics with a minor in Latin American studies. She has her career sights set on working in peace and conflict or global politics with a position either at the State Department or working for a nonprofit organization in Latin America.

Echeverria opted to apply for the Eureka! Program to fill her summer days, she said. That choice likely changed the course of her life.

She has begun her college career at Santa Barbara City College and plans to transfer to a four-year university to complete a degree in business administration.

Echeverria has her sights on becoming a human resources manager or marketing manager.

“It’s been, honestly, one of the best choices I made because I’ve gotten so many great experiences and opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise, like visiting college campuses and going to Washington D.C. and meeting our senators,” she explained.

Click here for more information about Girls Inc. of Carpinteria, its programs and offerings, how to sign up or to volunteer. Click here to make an online donation.

Noozhawk contributing writer Jennifer Best can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Lupita Echeverria received the 2017 Strong, Smart and Bold Award from Girls Inc. of Carpinteria, a $5,000 award offered to graduating seniors who have shown a commitment to the organization through volunteerism and participation in the Eureka! Program. Echeverria is flanked by her family and, at left, Girls Inc. programs director Jessica Wetzel. Click to view larger
Lupita Echeverria received the 2017 Strong, Smart and Bold Award from Girls Inc. of Carpinteria, a $5,000 award offered to graduating seniors who have shown a commitment to the organization through volunteerism and participation in the Eureka! Program. Echeverria is flanked by her family and, at left, Girls Inc. programs director Jessica Wetzel. (Girls Inc. of Carpinteria photo)
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