“This project has been on our radar for the past seven or eight years. We knew we needed a gym and once you start thinking about building a structure like that, then you start thinking about what else you should build up,” said Roberta Wilhelm, Executive Director for Girls, Inc. of Omaha.
The plans for Girls, Inc.’s upcoming expansion and renovation actually began with a drawing on a napkin. Wilhelm said once Girls, Inc. talked to the architect about what they wanted, he started sketching some realistic possibilities for what the building might look like and how the land might be used.
“The plans have morphed over time as we have really looked at our needs,” she said.
Girls, Inc. will add a full gym with bleachers, a locker room, a fitness center and an exercise room onto the existing building. Other additions will include two teen rooms, a media room for girls to make videos or PSAs and a clinic space.
The girls were consulted when the organization was drafting their plans.
“The teen girls let us know they didn’t like being in same building as the 5-year olds. I think that’s understandable that they don’t want to be in the same space with what they consider to be ‘babies.’ We have 16, 17 and 18-year old girls and they should have their own space,” she said.
And conversely, she explained that parents of the 5-year olds don’t necessarily want their daughters hanging out with the teens either. Wilhelm called it a “win-win” for all involved.
Health professionals from the community will partner with Girls, Inc. in its new clinic space. At this point, Wilhelm said they are still talking to potential partners to decide who will be the best in terms of delivering the services the girls need.
“We are thinking the clinic will be a place where the girls and neighbors of Girls, Inc. can get kindergarten shots and sports physicals as well as be tested for STDs. This will also help us assist the girls who age out of the foster care system to find a medical home as they get older,” explained Wilhelm
The current building will also undergo some changes. Right now, the Girls, Inc. gym doubles as a cafeteria. With the addition of the new fitness center, the space will be turned into an education kitchen. Girls will learn about healthy eating as well as being able to exercise. She said the girls cannot really play basketball or do any large motor skill activities when they are setting up for dinner every night
“We are also going to have a rooftop garden and will be to grow healthy foods,” Wilhelm said.
She said Girls, Inc. is looking at the renovation and addition as a sort of health and wellness initiative that is needed for girls to be strong, smart and bold. Wilhelm explained the strong part means being healthy in mind and body. And because some of the girls have expressed a strong interest in running, Wilhelm said they are considering adding an elevated track to the fitness center.
The new exercise areas will allow girls to keep fit even when it’s too cold outside to get on the field or play in the playground. According to Wilhelm, that space is needed for the girls to be physically active in a safe environment.
“So there is a component with yoga that’s meditation and reflection and there’s walking and running. There will be dances where we will bring in other teens from the community to participate with our girls,” said Wilhelm.
The concept for the renovation and expansion has grown and been refined over time and the fundraising has gone the same way. Wilhelm explained that as the plans developed over the last several years with major donors, Girls, Inc. has kept them abreast of the organization’s plans, thoughts and dreams.
Girls, Inc. stayed in touch with major donors about ongoing operations and programs they have with the girls. They talked about the day-to-day challenges as well as the successes.
The foundations and corporations that have contributed to the renovation and expansion so far are corporations and organizations that know and love Girls, Inc. To date, Girls, Inc. has raised a little over $13.5 million. The goal for the project is $15 million.
“Health and wellness is one piece of a holistic approach with the girls. Education, literacy and STEM are all important subjects we cover with the girls. We also help them with career preparation as well as pair girls with mentors. And we help girls navigate the financial system. All these programs should be available to the girls so they can become healthy, educated and independent women; able to be contributing members of our community,” said Wilhelm.
Information on the Girls, Inc. renovation and expansion is available at www.girlsincomaha.org.