On Wednesday, Girls Inc.
held its annual Celebration Luncheon at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis. The event honored those who could surely be deemed role models — women who encompass the Girls Inc. ideal of girls being strong, smart, and bold.
This year's honorees were Joyce Johns, Dr. Jeanne Jamison, Rev. Sonia Louden Walker, and Beverly Robertson.
The luncheon sold out. It raised a record $43,000.
Charles Lennox is the new Director of Food and Beverage for the Holiday Inn University of Memphis. He was enlisted to help put on the luncheon. The girls suggested something more inclusive that would break the binds of an ordinary luncheon. They would make it picnic-style, with produce from the Girls Inc. farm.
"It was one of these serendipitous moments when all of a sudden ideas magically start to line up," says Lennox. "They wanted to do something that had a feel of a picnic; they wanted to do something family-style, which is not something we've done before."
Lennox and the girls brainstormed. They talked about what was growing on the farm. The ideas (fresh fruit in yogurt and honey, sandwiches, pasta salad, miniature desserts) came to fruition.
Lennox has daughters of his own and recognizes the value of the Girls Inc. to girls who are at a vulnerable age.
Kenya Ghanor is the program manager of Girls Inc. She says the farm program, which launched five years ago, has 15 girls, between the ages of 15 to 18. It is very competitive to get in.
Girls can qualify to be on the farm the second year in the Girls Inc. program, which is four years. The girls are then broken up into groups and assigned tasks, such as weeding, painting, or taking care of the hoop house.
Ghanor says they will break up the day by playing games or having water balloon fights. They'll do yoga or meditation.
"They come in with whatever is on their mind, and we allow them the space to release it," says Ghanor.
The girls also man the farmers markets — including the Memphis Farmers Market Downtown — in which they are involved.
The girls grow lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, zucchini, cucumbers, okra, herbs, and flowers on the 9.5 acre farm. They get a stipend for their work.
"They really run the farm," Ghanor says. "They choose what crops we grow. They do all of the planning. They take care of the markets and all the money."
She notes that it all fits in the Girls Inc. ethos. "Our mission is to inspire girls to be strong smart, and bold," Ghanor says. "We're definitely teaching them how to be strong which is mainly being healthy and making smart choices. Smart — they get a chance to really use their minds and we challenge them. Then they get that entrepreneur experience. They get a chance to speak out and advocate for themselves in the community."
Another thing the girls do on the farm is keep bees. And from those bees comes the honey that will be used in the fresh fruit and yogurt dish at the luncheon. The honey is also a key element in a new summer cocktail at Strano! — the Girls Inc. Bourbon Bee Sting. A portion of the proceeds from the drink's sales go to the organization.
Brian Dickerson, the bar manager of Strano!, says doing the cocktail was a no-brainer. They support Girls Inc. and Dickerson was intrigued with what he could do with the honey. Dickerson made a sort of simple syrup with the honey, lemon juice, and the jalapeño (which he's also used in a Bloody Mary) and stir that in with Buffalo Trace bourbon and Angostura bitters.
"It's light and refreshing and goes well with the summer heat," he says.
Dickerson says he liked this project a lot. "Not to politicize it," he says, "but certainly an organization like this is needed in 2019. Yeah, so I was very very very happy to work with them."