LOWELL -- Take an executive director who has spent most of her life and all of her human services career seeking ways to improve the lives of others. Add a successful entrepreneur and his attorney wife who view education as the great equalizer and seek ways to help open that door of opportunity to graduating high school seniors whose families might struggle to pay tuition.
What you've got is a new partnership between Girls Inc. of Greater Lowell and Empire Loan Charitable Foundation that will annually benefit two Greater Lowell girls who have a present or past affiliation with Girls Inc., one planning to attend a four-year college and another attending a two-year.
A recent $18,500 grant to Girls, Inc. will provide for two Empire Loan Charitable Foundation Scholarships annually, the four-year at $1,000 and the two-year at $500. The scholarships are renewable each year during their college education based on good academic standing.
Allison Picott, vice president of Empire Loan Charitable Foundation and wife of Empire Loan founder Michael Goldstein, sought out Girls Inc. of Greater Lowell in January after a successful affiliation with Girls Inc. of Lynn.
For Tewksbury resident Tracy Reilly Ingersoll, the newly appointed executive director of Girls Inc., it was not a bad phone call to receive just three weeks into the job.
Picott and Adam Gundersheim, Empire Loan Lowell branch manager, took a tour with Reilly Ingersoll of the Greater Lowell facility, which is housed in a former church on Worthen Street. Under its roof, the staff and volunteers provide quality enrichment programs after school, during summer and holiday breaks for around 500 girls between the ages of 5 and 18. The environment is safe, educational, creative and nurturing, with the goal of teaching independence and personal responsibility. Their motto: Strong, smart and bold.
As in Lynn, Picott liked what she saw. Goldstein, who has two daughters and a son, was next to tour the facility and hear about how girls' lives are being changed.
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"There were a lot of girls here and a lot of activities. The facility, the girls and the programs were just great," said Goldstein, who expanded his company from one office in Boston in 1988 to the current eight Empire Loan offices in seven communities.
Goldstein's son is beginning to look at colleges, so Goldstein is aware of the skyrocketing costs and how daunting they are at any income level, he said.
Still, he can send his children to college and is aware there are many who cannot. Adding scholarship opportunities to the foundation's causes appealed to Picott and Goldstein.
"I'm very concerned that the gap between the rich and poor is growing. But education is the great equalizer and businesses have to step up," he said.
He admires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates for the ways in which they are giving back much of their wealth to benefit others.
"I'm not Bill Gates, but I'm as wealthy as I ever need to be," Goldstein said. "Life is too short to go to the grave with most of what you have."
Reilly Ingersoll points out that none of the girls currently active in Girls Inc. will be graduating seniors this year, so they are hoping to get the word out to graduating seniors who have past affiliation with Girls Inc.
Though Girls Inc. offers four other scholarships through generous benefactors, this is the first that is renewable for the four- and two-year terms, Reilly Ingersoll said.
Besides giving out scholarships, Reilly Ingersoll has many other goals and is excited about her future with Girls Inc. She succeeds the well-loved Carol Duncan, who retired in December.
"Everyone tells me I have big shoes to fill," said Reilly Ingersoll, a Lexington native who lives in Tewksbury with her husband, Mark, and sons Nicholas, 7 and Brendan, 6.
"But Carol has been here for me, helping out if we need a little more information on something. Having her as my cheerleader is comforting, plus the whole staff and the board have been great."
Reilly Ingersoll has an extensive background in human services, including 16 years working with children and adults through various residential support programs and the Department of Children and Families. She viewed the leadership opportunity with Girls Inc. as a way to continue her dedication toward improving the lives of others, this time for the girls and their families.
Increased enrollment through marketing efforts is one of her major goals, meaning more improved lives, she said. She'd also like to see renovations to the current gymnasium. The former church's pulpit had been closed in during 1980s renovations and she'd like to open it back up so that the pulpit stage can be used for the many productions that the girls organize, she said.
"It's great to have found an organization that matches my passion, directly related to what I've been doing now for almost 17 years," she said. "Doing for others to make a situation better, that complements my kind of drive. And now I can do it within my own community."
For more information on Girls Inc. or scholarship opportunities, visit girlsinclowell.org or call 978-458-6529.