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Center helps girls become ‘strong, smart and bold’
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[Image]
Photo by THOMAS MICHALSKI
Allie Hall, 11, lines up on cue ball in the “big” or game room at the Girls Inc. facility
PINELLAS PARK - There’s a place where children ages 5 to 17 go before and after school so they wont be alone due to working parents and other reasons.

Girls Inc., an offshoot of the former Girls Club of America at 7700 61st St., offers a variety of programs, ranging from arts and crafts to self-defense.

Originally opened in 1961, it is the only Girls Inc. facility in Pinellas County. There are about 75 affiliates scattered around the country.

“Our goal is to make girls strong, smart and bold,” said Renee McInnis, executive director. “We are strong on mentoring and focusing on the positive.”

[Image]
Photo by THOMAS MICHALSKI
Katelinn Selke, 9, seated, and Meredith Goodwin, 10, study a computer program.
McInnis worked in the domestic violence field for 20 years before taking over Girls Inc. two months ago.

About 100 youngsters attend pre- and after-school activities that begin at 6:30 a.m. and again at 2 p.m.

“We are all about keeping the kids off the streets and in a safe environment,” Kathy Christopher, program director, said. “We are unique in that we serve only girls. There are no boys here.”

Girls Inc. offers programs ranging from computer education to pregnancy prevention. Guest speakers often address the youngsters.

A self-defense course that teaches children how to protect themselves is extremely popular.

McInnis and her peers are open to mentoring. Often girls approach them with personal problems ranging from childhood romance to sexual abuse.

“One girl complained that she was being abused by her grandfather,” Christopher said. “We scheduled a meeting between the girl and her mother who was unaware of the situation.”

The facility offers a summer camp and then swings into the pre- and after-school programs when school opens.

“We give girls the opportunity to be girls,” Christopher said. “Sometimes they do boy things like climb trees, shoot pool and play ball.”

The facility opens its doors to local groups for meetings and other agendas. The Suncoast Bible Study, Girl Scouts, Brownies and even a fencing club meets there.

CASA – Community Action Stops Abuse – also sponsors weekend meetings between abusive parents and their children.

Girls Inc. enjoys the support of the United Way, the Pinellas County Community Foundation, the City of Pinellas Park and other organizations

There are no future building expansion plans outside of introducing more programs to better serve the children.

“We want more outreach programs rather than additional facilities,” McInnis said. “We have a keen focus on self-help and other programs.”
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9911 Seminole Blvd.,
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Phone: (727) 397-5563
Fax: (727) 397-5900
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