By Mike Ferguson
The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) From helping students trying to pay for college to working with the American Red Cross on disaster relief programs, the women honored by Girls Inc. of Winter Haven this year are women to be admired.
The number of those honored by Girls Inc. of Winter Haven over the years has now eclipsed 100.
The four newest honorees were recognized during the 26th Annual She Knows Where She’s Going Awards at Polk State College on Friday. Girls Inc. of Winter Haven is a nonprofit founded in 1948 that teaches girls to be “strong, smart and bold.”
Peggy Threlkel, executive director of Girls Inc., said during the 2015-16 year, the organization took in 245 girls. All of them advanced to the next grade and more than half improved their test scores between the first and last grading period of the year.
“Even when my family moved across town and I had to adjust to a new school, I still knew I would be picked up by a bus with my same friends and mentors,” said Victoria Reiter, a former Girls Inc. member who now serves as an employee at the club. “I’m proud to be part of the same club and to try to make the impact this club has made on me.”
George Jenkins Award
Marianne George was presented with the George Jenkins Award for taking on leadership roles with the Junior League of Greater Winter Haven, the parent-teacher association at Jewett School of the Arts, Girl Scouts and Girls Inc.
“I am humbled to be honored with the same women mentioned today,” she said. “To have my name mentioned in the same sentence with George Jenkins is truly humbling. To my husband, Greg, thank you for supporting me and all my activities.”
George serves as the director of Development and Alumni Relations at Polk State College. Her work there has helped with financial assistance for students trying to pay for college.
“Paying it forward is not paying for someone behind you in the drive-thru line,” George said. “My hope is that we’re planting the seeds now, so that my children recognize the importance of giving back.”
Julie Pope Award
Linda Haskins, known to friends as “Long Legs Linda,” was honored with the Julie Pope Award. Haskins was recognized for her work with the American Red Cross.
With more than 400 mobile home communities in Polk County, Haskins recruited residents from those communities to set up their own disaster relief teams.
“We can be great role models by demonstrating responsibility and self-reliance in our own everyday life,” Haskins said. “We hope girls will find that inner reward to continue to help others.”
Haskins received recognition from the Orlando Police Department on behalf of the Red Cross’ Orlando chapter for the relief work she and her husband, Bear, did in the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub shooting June 12. She also works with local churches to support literacy and community outreach activities.
“No matter what problem, activity, I get myself into, Bear is always there to fix it,” she said. “I have been extremely fortunate to have wonderful friends and a caring husband.”
Ralph & Alice Thompson Award
Jane McGinnis received the Ralph & Alice Thompson Award for her work in guiding many literacy projects, including Girls Inc.’s Kindness Rock Project. She’s also a volunteer at the Winter Haven Public Library.
“I feel this award honors not the recipient only, but those who encourage the recipient to serve,” McGinnis said. “They empower me to do my best, listen to my heart and serve to the best of my ability.”
McGinnis has also been a champion of scholarship and grant programs for women returning to work. She and her husband, Gordon, actively support Theatre of Winter Haven, Winter Haven Symphony Guild and the Polk State College Foundation.
“Goodness inspires goodness and life becomes a natural progression of paying it forward,” she said. “This organization stimulates and affects positive change within our community.”
Virginia Snively Award
Ashlee Wright was the winner of the Virginia Snively Award for devoting her life to education. The daughter of two educators, Wright founded New Beginnings High School in 2011 to cater to at-risk students. The award is named after founder of Girls Inc. of Winter Haven.
“Her founding of this club is based on some of the principles that I founded New Beginnings on,” Wright said. “I’m a living example of what you can accomplish when you put your mind to work. I might not be the most educated educator, but I’m the hardest working.”
Since its founding six years ago, New Beginnings has added a Lakeland campus and now serves more than 1,000 students throughout the county. Wright also serves on boards for the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce and the Junior League of Lakeland.
“It’s not what you start with, it’s where you finish,” she said. “And I am just beginning.”