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Empowering a New Generation of Women

December 07, 2007

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The seeds of positive change are sown by thoughtful professionals, leaders, and change agents whose personal and professional lives reflect creativity, compassion, and a commitment to diversity and social justice. Such is the case with Annette Klinefelter, a Lewis & Clark alumna and founder of Portland-based advocacy group, Girls Inc. N.W. Oregon.

While working on her undergraduate degree in political science at Lewis & Clark College, Annette became a student worker at Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling in the Center for Continuing Studies. At that time, the Center was holding annual conferences that brought together educators, counselors, and community and government agencies to look at gender inequities in education and services within our community. As a result of the Center’s conferences, substantial changes occurred in state and local access to and funding for services for girls.

Although not originally grounded in feminist theory, Annette’s work with the Center on these conferences opened her eyes to the crippling impact that externally imposed limitations have on the future of young girls. Following her graduation in 1996, Annette continued her work as a member of the Center’s staff until 1998, when, determined to be a change agent, she convened dozens of groups of elementary, middle, and high school girls to learn what they needed most from adults, schools, and their communities. Based on what she learned, Annette started Girls Inc. Serving girls from ages 8 to 21 who face intergenerational poverty, juvenile crime, substance abuse, and school failure, Girls Inc., through a variety of programs, provides support, tools, and teaches the skills they need to lead healthy, productive lives. These programs include mentorship and peer support during and after foster care, provide help in building skills for effective communication and conflict resolution, assistance in resisting pressure to use harmful substances, and help in building skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

While building this safety net along with resources and support for girls and young women, and determined to take Girls Inc. to the next level, Annette began work on a Masters of Education in Educational Leadership at the Graduate School. One of Girls Inc.’s after-school curricular programs, Allies in Action (see description below), was modeled on her thesis “Adolescents in Action,” and is the only curriculum of its kind in the nation. This eight-week curriculum focuses on relational aggression between and among girls.

Girls Inc. serves 3,000 girls each year in after-school programming at school sites or community centers, with five curricula offered at each site: Operation Smart (building girls’ skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), Economic Literacy (introducing girls to basic economic and financial concepts including money management, investments, and global economics), Friendly PEERsuasion (helping girls make smart choices concerning the use of legal and illicit substances), Allies in Action (identifying and overcoming relational aggression), and GO Onward (teaching girls how to build community, learn leadership skills, and develop voice). An intensive evaluation of these program has shown a 92% increase in school attendance among Girls, Inc. girls and an 85% reduction in behavioral problems—just two of the numerous positive changes exhibited by these future leaders of our society.

During the 10 years that Annette has worked as Executive Director of Girls, Inc., her program has affected the lives of countless girls. So what’s next? Annette envisions satellite offices located throughout rural Oregon in small towns where intergenerational poverty limits the future of girls; she would like to be the first line of defense for girls in the juvenile justice system, providing them with mentors the moment they become incarcerated, offering support throughout their journey back into society. With Girls Inc. current staff of nine and its numerous volunteers working to improve the lives and futures of thousands of girls, those goals seem quite reachable.

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