Over the years, Joanna Myers and her family have supported Girls Inc. of Jackson County financially.
Myers, 77, assisted with the organization’s capital campaign in 2003, asking community leaders to donate to the cause to help build the new facility on North O’Brien Street in Seymour.
When the building opened in August 2008, it featured a teaching and learning kitchen Myers funded to provide young girls with opportunities to learn how to cook. A large sign over the kitchen bears her name.
[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]Click here to purchase photos from this gallery
But it wasn’t the money that led the organization’s board of directors to select the Seymour resident as its 2019 Girls Inc. Champion.
It was her embodiment of the club’s mission to advocate for and inspire girls to be “strong, smart and bold,” said board member Amanda Dick.
Myers was honored Friday night during the fifth annual Girls Inc. Celebration Gala Champions Ball at The Pines Evergreen Room in Seymour. Others who have received the award include Dr. Amanda Dick in 2018, Marvina Lewis in 2017 and Rexanne Ude in 2016. In 2015, the club honored four Jackson County Women of the Year: Deb Bedwell, Mary Ann Jordan, Raeann Mellencamp and Debbie Laitinen.
The event, which included a reverse raffle for $5,000, which was won by Fred Lewis, Larry McIntosh and Jason Stuckwisch, a silent auction and a live auction, serves as a fundraiser for the club. The total amount raised was not available as of Wednesday morning.
Girls Inc. provides after-school programming and summer camps for girls and prevention programs in classrooms throughout Jackson County. Those programs include Friendly PEERsuasion for substance abuse prevention; Work It Out, an anti-bullying program; Kid Ability, a body safety program; Redefining Beauty, a self-esteem program; and a Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy program.
Before Myers was presented with the Champion award, Girls Inc. alumna Allison Quintero, 29, of Seymour spoke about the club’s impact on her life.
Quintero is now a training specialist at Aisin World Corp. of America. She is a Seymour High School graduate and has a degree in technology management from Indiana University.
“Girls Inc. has been a really big part of my life for a very long time,” she said.
Having moved from southern California to Seymour when she was 6, Quintero said it was quite the change but a good one.
“My parents got me signed up with Girls Inc. as I was trying to figure out my place in this town,” she said.
She was able to take after-school classes in science, arts and crafts and cooking. She remembers taking a class as a preteen with her mom that taught her to be comfortable in her skin and to be open and honest with her parents.
What all started out as after-school programs grew into volunteering at the club when she was in middle school and high school. From there, Quintero became part of the club’s summer staff when she came back home from college.
“I had a lot of great opportunities all because of Girls Inc.,” she said.
Those opportunities included going to New York to pitch a business idea as part of Girls Inc.’s national Corporate Camp for Entrepreneurs.
“Girls Inc. was always so encouraging of us, allowing us to build on our ideas and to travel to New York City,” she said.
Quintero was awarded two national scholarships from Girls Inc. totaling nearly $20,000.
“It was through these two scholarships and Girls Inc.’s support that I realized I really wanted to major in business,” she said.
She did just that at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Being a part of Girls Inc. taught her more than just how to cook or make a ceramic bowl, she said. It taught her the value of having a solid work ethic and how to be comfortable with herself, she said.
“And that I should not apologize for who I am, how I look, where I come from, what our family background is,” she said. “My parents could have told me that over and over again until they were blue in the face, and I still didn’t believe them until I heard it from someone else, and that someone else for me was Girls Inc.”
The club was like a second home, she said, where she built her first friendships and gained mentors and role models she aspired to be like.
“If I have just an ounce of their integrity, I know that I will have a really successful career,” she said. “None of this in my life would have been possible without Girls Inc.”
Myers said she was reluctant to accept the honor and at first said no, but then she reconsidered.
“Part of that was because it seems like my involvement with Girls Inc., much of it, was so long ago,” she said.
But supporting Girls Inc. in any way is important, she said.
“I want to impress upon you the importance that it can make to be a mentor to someone or to be a role model even when you think no one is watching you,” she said. “It can make a difference.”
Some of the things that made a difference for Myers was the path she followed growing up. She was into activities at an early age, from dancing and piano lessons to being in Girl Scouts.
“There was no Girls Club where I grew up, so I didn’t have the experience that a lot of you in this area had,” she said. “If I am a champion for girls, it’s because of a number of things that have happened in my past.”
As a teenager, she had to work jobs and get good grades to earn scholarships to go to college.
“That helped me set goals,” she said. “And I think that is one of the biggest things our people today need to learn to do is to set goals, even little ones in order to get to the next one that they may want to achieve in life.”
Originally from northern Virginia near the Washington, D.C., metro area, Myers came to Indiana to attend Butler University, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology. While in college, she was involved in dance and performed as a drum majorette with the marching band and served as president of the senior women’s honorary society.
She met her husband, Bob, at college, and they have been married for 54 years, nearly all of which they have spent in Seymour. They have two children and five grandchildren.
When she was 46, Joanna went on to get her master’s degree in counseling at Indiana University so she could have more autonomy with her endeavors.
“Helping children is one of Joanna’s main priorities,” Dick said. “This is the one theme that runs through nearly all of her activities.”
Joanna worked part time as a counselor for Christian Counseling Associates for 20 years, helping children work through difficult issues.
She has sponsored several children from Africa, some of whom she still is in contact with and has even visited.
Joanna continues to volunteer to help children in the court system through the Court Appointed Special Advocates program, which she has done for more than 10 years.
“You don’t know how much better the world might turn out to be if you influence a child and it just makes a small difference,” she said. “That’s a big difference to our world.”
Before it was renamed Girls Inc., she was involved as part of the women’s counsel for the Girls Club of Seymour. She helped with fundraising and organizing the club. She also served two terms and an additional year on the Girls Inc. board.
“These things really impacted me and helped make of me a champion for girls,” she said.
But Joanna did more than just lead. She spent time with Girls Inc. members and even taught a ceramics class, where she made a Nativity set that she still has to this day.
“You can’t tell what little thing might come along as you interact with somebody else who’s young that might move them from where they are to a step beyond in terms of ability or leadership and prepare them for the next big thing that they may be very successful at,” she said.
She pledged to continue to support Girls Inc. and the youth of the community for as long as she is able.
“I remain very passionate about Girls Inc. because I think it’s an organization that is so different from others,” she said. “It’s a place for girls to come and have a good time and make friends, but it’s so much more than that. It’s forward-looking, and I think it’s so worthwhile supporting.”