ABN Member Spotlight: Rhoni Basden, Executive Director of Girls Inc. TN Valley
Rhoni Basden, Executive Director of Girls Inc. TN Valley (which comprises both Girls Inc. of Oak Ridge and Girls Inc. of Knoxville), said she fell in love with the organization's mission of “inspiring girls to be strong, smart, and bold” when she came to Girls Inc. four years ago.
Girls Inc. of TN Valley began as Girls Inc. of Oak Ridge, founded in 1976. Girls Inc. of Oak Ridge grew out of a need to provide young women with better sports programs. The programs were a hit, and Girls Inc. of Oak Ridge grew to offer after-school programs as well. Today, they serve over 850 young women in sports programs such as basketball, softball, tennis, tumbling, and archery, as well as through curricula in STEM, economic literacy, health and wellness, and media literacy, among others.
“We try and look at a very holistic way of helping girls,” says Rhoni. “Our intentional programs provide mentoring and aid, and teach girls how to rely on one another.” Rhoni believes the programs Girls Inc. offers go beyond simply educating young women. “The most rewarding part for me is seeing the girls understanding the challenges girls and women face. They have the tools to create positive change and we want to help them develop those tools so that they can become their own advocates.”
Girls Inc. of Oak Ridge grew to be so successful that three years ago it began an expansion into Knoxville through a collaboration with Great Schools Partnership. Today, Girls Inc. of Knoxville has grown from after-school programs in two schools to programs in nine schools, and plans to expand into three to five more schools this fall. “Schools really saw the value in what we had to offer,” says Rhoni. The Knoxville after-school programs serve over 195 girls a week and are free for the students. “Our programs in Knoxville are completely free because we are still in the outreach stage, so our biggest need right now is funding,” says Rhoni.
Rhoni, whose background is in social work, said she had never heard of Girls Inc. before she accepted the position as executive director. She says that her incredible staff deserve all of the credit for encouraging the growth and expansion of the organization in East Tennessee. Seeing young women connect with their mentors and develop impactful and meaningful relationships has been worth all of the hard work Girls Inc. has put into its programs and expansion.
This April 29th, Girls Inc. of Knoxville will be hosting its third annual Elite Awards honoring four women in the Knoxville area who have made a difference in the lives of women and girls. The 2017 honorees include comedian Leanne Morgan, Dr. Sara Hillyer and Dr. Ashleigh Huffman of the UT Center for Sport and Peace, and Sarah Van Sickle, founder of Beauty Hunters. The event will include a dinner, auction, and dancing at Island Home Airport.
For more information about Girls Inc. of TN Valley, visit their website HERE.
Madi Mayfield is a junior at the University of Tennessee majoring in Public Relations.