By her sophomore year of high school, Sarahi Larios Cruz had already experienced family disruption, racism and systemic inequity, but she chose the “path of most resistance” focusing on overcoming these challenges and limitations to create the future she envisions for herself.
Key throughout her journey has been her confidence and resilience, which she cultivated at Girls Inc.’s Goleta Valley Teen Center where she spent almost every weekday from 2:45 – 6:00 PM.
“Girls Inc. is a place of independence, support, respect and opportunity,” Larios Cruz said during the Girls Inc. 2019 Celebration Luncheon. “At Girls Inc. I am at home. It is a place I am excited to go to, and a place I don’t want to leave.”
And while the space itself is “home,” it is the Girls Inc. staff – many of whom are Latina like Sarahi – that serve as her “extended family” and make her experience so transformational.
In fall of 2019, Larios Cruz was selected as one of 12 teens to serve on the National Girls Inc. Teen Advocacy Council where she advises the national organization’s public policy team about the issues facing girls and teens in their respective communities. With the leadership skills she has developed from the experience, attending college is not even a question for Larios Cruz after she graduates in 2021.
For CEO Barbara Ben-Horin, the strength of young women like Larios Cruz is the whole reason why Girls Inc. exists. When girls have tools and opportunities, they change their own circumstances and they also change the circumstances of others around them.
“The girls are not victims, they are powerful,” Ben-Horin says. “We want them to take their power and their voices into the world and make their mark as leaders.”
To do that, Girls Inc. uses its two facilities in downtown Santa Barbara and in Goleta to serve as many as 1,500 girls and teens every year. The programming is developed around the three words that capture the group’s mission: inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.
Strong (healthy) programs are aimed at health and wellness. Smart (educated) programs focus on academic enrichment and literacy and developing girls’ interests in pursuing STEM. Bold (independent) programs cultivate girls’ social and emotional intelligence and teach girls – many of whom grow up in under-resourced communities – to break through gender bias to create their place as powerful leaders as adults. These programs focus on areas such as economic literacy, leadership, civic engagement, and advocacy.
After nine years at Girls Inc., Larios Cruz is the embodiment of Girls Inc.’s mission – confidently shaping her own path forward, and ready to take the lead.