Girls Inc. provides year-round guidance to Johnson County youths
By Paige Langenderfer | Photos by Josh Marshall

Every morning when she was 6 years old, Bonnie Pottschmidt would rush through breakfast, strap on her roller skates and race the four blocks to Girls Inc. of Johnson County. Both her parents worked, so Pottschmidt and her three sisters spent a lot of time there, where she says her favorite room was the “doll” room.

I loved being able to be with the other kids and getting to experience things,” she says of her time at Girls Inc. “It was one of my favorite places to go.”

Today, 68 years later, Pottschmidt works as the librarian at Girls Inc., and she still lives just four blocks away. 

“A lot has changed, but a lot is the same,” she says, while surrounded by young girls. “It’s still a place where girls learn confidence and how to be proud of who they are. I love seeing them blossom from one year to the next.”

Girls Inc. opened in 1940, in the same 150-year-old home on Madison Street in Franklin where it is housed today. Sonya Ware-Meguiar, Girls Inc. CEO, says the organization has guided up to five generations of Johnson County families. 

“These girls are our future mothers, teachers, business leaders.We’re raising them up to be good citizens of the community.”— Sonya Ware-Meguiar

Girls Inc. provides year-round academic achievement and skills-building programs designed specifically for the needs of girls ages 6 to 18. Programs address math and science education, pregnancy and drug abuse prevention, media literacy, economic literacy, adolescent health, violence prevention and sports participation.

Nationally, Girls Inc. was founded in 1864. The network of local Girls Inc. nonprofit organizations serves 136,000 girls annually at more than 1,400 sites in 350 cities across the United States and Canada.

During the school year, Girls Inc. of Johnson County serves 75 girls each day. More than 100 girls attend the Girls Inc. summer camp each year from May to August.

“We’re working to equip girls to achieve academically, lead healthy and physically active lives, manage money, navigate media messages and discover an interest in science, technology, engineering and math,” Ware-Meguiar says. “We work hard every day to deliver life-changing programs that inspire girls to be strong, smart and bold.”

Watching the growth in the girls inspires Ware-Meguiar. “So many girls come here and are shy, but after about six months they are a whole new girl,” she explains. “You can see the confidence building in them. It’s really exciting to be part of such an empowering agency and program.”

Carly Woodward, 11, is now considered a role model at Girls Inc. “Carly is an enthusiastic leader and advocate,” Ware-Meguiar says. “She is a wonderful mentor to her peers. She leads monthly meetings to raise awareness about the dangers of tobacco, drug and alcohol use.”

In February, Woodward led a discussion about how tobacco use affects the heart. She also taught the younger girls how to refuse tobacco if someone offers. “I am very thankful for Girls Inc.,” Woodward says. “It has helped me learn how to be a leader and how to be confident in my choices.”

Dana Clark, 20, went to Girls Inc. from the ages of 6 to 18. “I was a little nervous and scared when I first started going because I’m a little shy,” she says. “But after a little while I started to feel comfortable. I had a lot of fun and made so many friends. As I got older, I learned how to be a role model to the younger girls and how to be a leader.”

Today, Clark volunteers at Girls Inc. two days a week. “I want to give back because Girls Inc. did so much for me,” she says. “Girls Inc. gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams.”

In addition to programming, Girls Inc. members can receive help with homework, participate in arts and crafts and contribute to charitable projects. 

“We receive donations to help with our programming, projects, et cetera,” Ware-Meguiar says. “We want the girls to understand the significance of those donations, and we want to teach them that it is very important to give back to their community.”

Anna Scott is grateful that her 10-year-old daughter, Autumn, has the opportunity to go to Girls Inc. “Girls Inc. has been great for us,” Scott explains. “I love that Autumn gets to play and socialize with other girls, and I feel comforted knowing that she is safe and being well taken care of while I am working. As a single mother I can’t afford to pay what most places charge for after-school care. I am so thankful for those who donate their time and money to help the girls of this community.”