Just in time for summer vacation, Girls Inc. of St. Louis unveiled its updated north St. Louis County facility today. The goal is expanding education opportunities for poor girls.
The organization, which serves girls ages 5 to 17, provides both summer and after-school classes in subjects ranging from art to economic literacy. The upgraded 44,000-square-foot facility in Northwoods can serve up to 400 girls.
Carole Basile, the dean of the college of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said the programs provided help students stay sharp.
“We have a lot of summer learning loss with kids when they don’t have opportunities like this over the summer,” said Basile. “So this is huge, particularly for girls.”
The improvements to the building expand facilities for STEM learning – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The building now features a computer and science lab, stocked with beakers, lab coats and microscopes. It also has a community garden, dance studio and a professional grade kitchen for culinary classes.
Cheryl Jones, executive director of the local chapter of Girls Inc., said her favorite addition is the showers. Many of the girls in the program come from poor areas where hot water is a luxury they cannot afford.
To take tough choices off the table between extra learning and having a summer job, Jones said the organization will be employing a number of the girls at the facility.
The facility sits within the footprint of the Normandy school district, which the state board voted to lapse last month.
Basile chaired the state appointed task force that drew up recommendations the future of Normandy. She said the center’s extended learning opportunities fit the goal of bolstering wrap around services within the boundaries of the Normandy Schools Collaborative.
"Girls Inc. is a really strong partner for Normandy and Normandy schools," Basile said. "We are thrilled that we found the funding for 100 girls in Normandy to be able to come and experience this."
The program, which includes meals, costs $450 for children and $300 for teens for the summer. Scholarships are available based on financial need.
The renovation was largely funded through federal grant money, Missouri’s Neighborhood Assistance Program, the St. Louis County Port Authority and private donations.
Jones thanked County Executive Charlie Dooley for his support throughout the renovation.
“You don’t just come and support in money, you support in spirit,” said Jones. “When Normandy school district had some challenges, you haven’t turned your back on us or the girls.”
Dooley said the renovation benefits more than just the girls.
“When we come together as a community to help those in the least situations, we build up the entire community,” Dooley said.