Girls Inc. Mentoring Program Steers Girls towards Bold Futures

Girls Inc.With local roots dating to 1864 and national status as a non-profit organization in the U.S. since 1945, Girls Inc. seeks to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold through direct service and advocacy. The Girls Inc. movement started in New England during the Industrial Revolution as a response to the needs of a new working class: young women who had migrated from rural communities in search of newly available job opportunities in textile mills and factories. Formerly known as Girls Clubs of America, Girls Inc. equips girls with the skills they need to navigate economic, gender, and social barriers and grow up healthy, educated, and independent. Girls Inc. makes this transformational change through the Girls Inc. Experience: the people, environment and programming that, together, empower girls to succeed. Trained staff and volunteers build lasting mentoring relationships in girls-only spaces that are physically and emotionally safe and where girls find a sisterhood of support with shared drive, mutual respect, and high expectations. Hands-on, research-based programs provide girls with the skills and knowledge to set goals, overcome obstacles, and improve academic performance. Informed by girls and their families, Girls Inc. also works with policymakers to advocate for legislation and initiatives that increase opportunities for girls.

Girls Inc. strives to serve the girls who need them most, particularly girls from low-income communities and girls of color. Through a network of 83 local Girls Inc. nonprofit organizations, Girls Inc. serves 156,263 girls ages 5 - 18 annually in 32 states and provinces across the United States and Canada. Seventy percent of Girls Inc. girls identify as girls of color, including 39% who identify as African-American/ Black, 24% as Latina/ Hispanic, and 7% as Multicultural. 62% of girls served live in households earning $30,000 or less a year. One in ten come from households earning $10,000 or less a year.

The Bold Futures Mentoring Program

Girls Inc.Building on 30 years of mentoring experience and success supporting at-risk girls, Girls Inc. provides the Girls Inc. Bold Futures Mentoring program launched with a $2 million, two-year grant award through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Mentoring Opportunities for Youth Initiative in 2016 and expanded through a second grant of $1.5 million in 2017

Girls Inc. offers weekly small group mentoring programs, with a ratio of one staff person for every four girls, at 20 Girls Inc. locations in high-need communities across 15 states. Each year of the program, Girls Inc. will serve approximately 1,000 girls ages 9 to 14, providing consistent, in-depth experiences designed to strengthen girls’ coping skills, reduce risk factors, minimize entry/re-entry into the juvenile justice system, and increase family engagement.

The Bold Futures Mentoring program participants include: Girls Inc. of Carpinteria (CA); Girls Inc. of Central Alabama (AL); Girls Inc. of Greater Philadelphia & Southern New Jersey (PA/NJ); Girls Inc. of Holyoke (MA); Girls Inc. of Jacksonville (FL); Girls Inc. of Kingsport (TN); Girls Inc. of Los Angeles (CA); Girls Inc. of Lynn (MA); Girls Inc. of Memphis (TN); Girls Inc. of Metropolitan Dallas (TX); Girls Inc. of Metro Denver (CO); Girls Inc. of New Hampshire; Girls Inc. of Oak Ridge (TN); Girls Inc. of Omaha (NE); Girls Inc. of the Pacific Northwest (OR/WA); Girls Inc. of San Antonio (TX); Girls Inc. of Santa Fe (NM) Girls Inc. of Tarrant County (TX); Girls Inc. of Washington County (MD); and Girls Inc. of Worcester (MA).

Program GoalsGirls Inc.

Today, girls throughout the country continue to face real and profound challenges. One in six girls will not finish high school. One in four girls experiences sexual abuse or assault by age 17. And the United States continues to have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world. We also know girls in the U.S. are uniquely affected by poverty. Girls in high-risk communities face stunning exposure to violence, victimization, and sexual assault. Without adequate support, victims too often become offenders – girls may respond to trauma and violence with behaviors that result in their involvement in the juvenile justice system. In response to the need, Girls Inc. is expanding its capacity to help more girls cope with violence and trauma in their world through the Bold Futures Mentoring program.

The goal of the mentoring model is to combine the impact of Girls Inc. programming (each girl receives 52 hours of research-based gender specific Girls Inc. programming), delivered by trained facilitators, with a small group mentoring approach (each girl receives 48 hours of mentoring) to help girls develop the skills and confidence they need to feel safe in their world. Mentors are trained and prepared to support and reinforce the topics addressed in programming, giving girls the opportunity to speak to the mentor and their peers about issues raised during programming, unanswered questions, or requests for more information.

Mentors & Staff

Girls Inc. staff are extensively trained in both program-specific implementation and general facilitation skills, including education about girls’ developmental behaviors that helps them understand and manage groups of girls effectively and with insight. Girls Inc. mentors are recruited locally, thoroughly screened and trained prior to engaging with girls, are largely female, and include college students as well as community volunteers.

Promoting Safety & Preventing Violence through Developmentally Appropriate Education

Girls Inc. believes that girls have the right to be confident in themselves and safe in the world, so their commitment is that every girl in the Bold Futures program participate in a minimum of 12 hours of Girls Inc. Project BOLD – a gender specific violence prevention program that is research-based and age appropriate.

Through Girls Inc. Project BOLD, girls learn skills and strategies to lead safer lives in their homes, in relationships, in their communities, and online. Girls learn specific self-defense techniques and strategies as well as how to seek out and talk to caring adults about personal and gender-based violence. For girls in the BOLD Futures age range, Action for Safety℠ (for girls ages 9-11) builds negotiation, assertiveness, and self-defense skills as well as facilitating open and honest discussions about violence—including teasing and bullying, sexual harassment, dating violence, and physical and sexual abuse—to encourage and support girls who are being hurt and to lessen their fear and sense of isolation. Living Safe and Strong℠ (for girls ages 12-14) continues discussion of gender violence issues, reinforces and provides additional safety strategies and self-defense skills for teen girls, and introduces them to community experts and resources. Girls also develop and conduct community action projects addressing violence issues that are important to them.

Mentors are invited to participate in the program as well, positioning them to understand and further address in their small groups the issues that may arise from taking on the complicated topics related to violence, harassment and abuse.

Program Outcomes

Girls Inc.Through Bold Futures, Girls Inc. aims to equip girls with the guidance, support and skills to be engaged in school, build healthy relationships with peers and family, and reduce negative and high-risk behaviors. Long-term, Bold Futures will become a model program implemented across the larger Girls Inc. network and will be shared with peer organizations to strengthen juvenile justice prevention efforts nationwide.

Specific outcomes for girls in Bold Futures are measured through a retrospective survey process, asking them to identify changes in their behaviors and attitudes following participation in the program, inclusive of a wide range of elements, from school attendance, to standing up for themselves, to substance and tobacco use, to involvement with the justice system. Early data shows that girls who complete the program are meeting the projected target percentages for the vast majority of the outcomes measures.

Beyond outcomes measures, anecdotal evidence of the positive impact of the program on girls abounds. One mentee commented that, “I now know how to protect myself against those bullies at school” (Girls Inc. of New Hampshire). Finally, a significant achievement in the early stages of Bold Futures is the development of a cadre of trained mentors who are willing to dedicate their time to the girls, even beyond the program’s duration. Girls Inc. mentors, who vary by affiliate from college interns to community volunteers, have almost unilaterally taken to heart their role in contributing to a girl’s potential and encouraging her to develop the confidence, resilience, and strength of character that will help her become a healthy, educated and independent young woman.

Connections to Research

Girls Inc. programming is informed by research about the unique experiences of girls, and the specific experiences they face in the juvenile justice system. For example, a history of abuse, violence, or sexual assault is disproportionately prevalent among justice-involved girls. These girls are twice as likely as justice-involved boys to have gone through five or more “adverse childhood experiences” and four times as likely to have experienced sexual assault (Saar, Page, Epstein, Rosenthal, & Vafa, 2015; Shufelt & Cocozza, 2006). Girls are predominantly arrested for nonviolent status offenses such as truancy and running away (U.S. Department of Justice, 2015), which are common responses to violence, bullying or harassment at school, and abuse or conflict at home (Saar et al., 2015).

Girls Inc. also knows that exposure to trauma before high school is a stronger predictor of girls’ delinquency than is an experience of trauma during high school (Marsiglio, Chronister, Gibson, & Leve, 2014). Many girls ages 9 to 14 already carry a burden of trauma, navigating a changing landscape of risks at home, at school, and in their community. More than one-third of juvenile victims of serious violence, and nearly half (47%) of juvenile sexual assault victims, are under the age of 12. Among juvenile victims of violence, 75% of girls are victims of sexual assault, compared to 25% of boys. At school, girls face real risk of sexual assault. Unlike other violent crimes against juveniles, sexual assaults peak during school hours (Sickmund & Puzzanchera, 2014). Girls also face dangers at home: from age 11 on, girls are 35% more likely than boys to be verbally, physically, emotionally, or sexually abused (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2016).

With these facts at the forefront, Girls Inc. designed Bold Futures to help girls develop the personal and self defense skills they need to feel safe, and to provide them the support of mentors and caring adults who will reinforce and support them, at the ages and developmental stages where these resources are most relevant.

Next Steps 

Girls Inc. is currently exploring ways to strengthen its programming, while sharing its expertise about gender specific mentoring with other organizations. The organization is currently making adjustments to the duration of the program and creating a flexible model allowing Girls Inc. affiliates to customize their recruitment goals to the needs of the communities they serve. They are also working on providing mentor training opportunities specific to working with girls in small groups in a Girls Inc. environment. Program staff regularly utilize resources from MENTOR and the OJJDP National Mentoring Resource Center, while research staff participate in webinars and consultation from MENTOR about research-to-practice applications and program assessment.

In 2018, Girls Inc. shared insights from its programming at the National Mentoring Summit.

Related Resources


Marsiglio, Mary C.; Chronister, Krista M.; Gibson, Brandon; & Leve, Leslie D. (2014). Examining the link between traumatic events and delinquency among juvenile delinquent girls: A longitudinal study. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma 7(4), 217-225.

Saar, Malika Saada; Epstein, Rebecca; Rosenthal, Linsday; & Vafa, Yasmin (2015). The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Law Center, Center for Poverty and Inequality.

Shufelt, Jennie L., and Joseph. J. Cocozza (2006). Youth with Mental Health Disorders in the Juvenile Justice System: Results from a Multistate Prevalence Study. Research and Program Brief, 1–6. Delmar, N.Y.: National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice.

Sickmund, Melissa; & Puzzanchera, Charles (2014). Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2014 National Report. Pittsburgh: National Center for Juvenile Justice.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2016). Child maltreatment 2014.

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2015). Policy Guidance: Girls and the Juvenile Justice System.

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