Hughes making strides as new executive director of Girls, Inc.
By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Nikki Hughes first walked through the doors of Girls, Incorporated as a young girl in need of a safe place to learn and play in the afternoons while her parents worked.
“One of my friends introduced me to a place called Girls, Incorporated,” Hughes recalled. “I went there with her, and I fell in love with it.”
That love for Girls, Inc. has never wavered. After going through the entire program, Hughes eventually enrolled at ETSU and pursued a degree in child and family development. When she found herself in need of an internship during her senior year of college, Hughes went back to a familiar place – Girls, Inc.
She completed her internship, graduated from ETSU and instantly took a full-time job at Girls, Inc. She served as outreach coordinator for four years before moving up into the role of program director, which she kept for 16 years before recently being named the executive director of the organization she grew up in.
Sitting behind her desk at the center last Thursday afternoon, the scope of Hughes’ journey wasn’t lost on her.
“I started out at the youngest possible age in this organization, and now I hold the highest possible position at Girls, Incorporated,” she said. “So I’ve traveled through the whole ranks.”
While much has changed over the years, the mission of Girls, Inc. has stayed the same. Hughes said the goal of creating empowered girls who will grow up to be successful women never gets old, and her belief in the work being done at the organization is validated every time a woman who came through the program as a girl makes the decision to return as an adult to pass what they learned along to the next generation.
“I have probably hired no less than 20 to 25 people who came through the program that I may have had from kindergarten through middle school, and I hired them back as adults,” Hughes said. “Just like my story, it’s like a full circle.”
Life came full circle for Hughes in another way recently when Girls, Inc. was awarded a $5,000 Elevates grant from ETSU to fund Girls, Incorporated’s “Inspiring Girls to Become Engineers program, which aims to spark girls’ interest in engineering and technology.
The folks from Girls, Inc. partnered with the Department of Engineering at ETSU and the student chaper of the National Society of Black Engineers to pitch their idea, which will lead to girls from the organization being able to go to the campus of ETSU on weekly field trips to work with students, faculty and guest speakers.
In addition to getting hands-on experience with drones, coding, robots and 3-D printers, the girls will gain some familiarity with the path Hughes walked during her time away from Girls, Inc. – a path that led her across a stage to collect a diploma.
Meanwhile, Hughes and her board of directors are also working to make sure the door to Girls, Inc. is open to everyone. The center currently serves about 65-80 girls each week during the school year and up to 150 girls during the summer. The implementation of income-based fees, a sliding fee scale, discounts for multiple children and scholarships are helping bring the Girls, Inc. mission to more young girls.
“We are in the process right now of trying to reach more girls because we have lowered our prices,” Hughes said. “We want to make sure that no girl will be turned away. If you come here, we find a way to fund for that girl to be here.”
More information about the Girls, Incorporated of Johnson City/Washington County can be found at www.girlsincjc.com.