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A Queendom in the Heart of NYC

Safety. Self-esteem. Happiness. What if one place had all this to offer girls? And what if this place existed where girls were up against considerable adversity? Welcome to The Lower Eastside Girls Club (LESGC) of Manhattan. Most girls who walk through the doors of the LESGC live in housing projects and below the poverty line. They are often being raised by single, working mothers, and 45% of them have a family member who is incarcerated.1 The odds are against these girls, and the main goal of the LESGC is to stack those odds more in their favor.


The official mission of the LESGC is to break the cycle of local poverty by training the next generation of ethical, entrepreneurial and environmental leaders. They do this through a stunning array of programming—from science and technology to media-making and social justice.

We focus on the whole girl, not just their academics or college prep. We build up their self-esteem to help them create a life they love.

Through small businesses, mentoring relationships, experience in the arts, environmental education, health and wellness, and academic preparation, there is something, or a lot of things, for every girl. The thread that runs through these diverse offerings, and what distinguishes the LESGC, is that they have a “whole-girl” approach—meaning they emphasize a broad range of competencies to create success: curiosity, poise, happiness, resiliency, compassion, health and job readiness. “Most kids’ clubs focus on one component or experience, but we are much broader. We focus on the whole girl, not just their academics or college prep. We build up their self-esteem to help them create a life they love,” says Lyn Pentecost, Executive Director at the LESGC. All of this comes from a commitment to providing a space where girls and young women from ages 8 to 23 can develop confidence in themselves and their ability to positively impact the community.

Community is, and always has been a focal point for the LESGC. The social turmoil of the 1960s and '70s created a crisis in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Real estate was abandoned, there was rioting and property damage, and drugs were prevalent. Many social service agencies closed up and left the area. While the Boys Club of New York remained (even though a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, it did not admit girls), there was an obvious disparity in services for girls. In 1996, women from the Lower East Side organized themselves to address the need for a place that served girls and women in their community. Mothers, wage-earners, educators, business women and community activists came together and founded The Lower Eastside Girls Club.

Today, most of the staff and many of the over 100 mentors are from the Lower East Side, and they represent the diversity of the neighborhood. The commonality is the LESGC’s commitment to creating a place that nurtures the potential of every girl. Recognizing that nurturing also needs to happen at home within the families, there are also programs to help mothers. Adriana Pezzulli, Director of Development at the LESGC, says, “Creating community among the mothers is important to us. Since a lot of moms are single providers, we offer programs to help them get better jobs.” One of the programs is called “Pizza Academy,” a collaboration with Two Boots Pizzeria, a locally owned business, that offers a course in pizza making from which mothers can earn a food handler’s license upon graduating. This certification can help them get into the workforce and be more competitive in the marketplace. Every Wednesday, the LESGC hosts a planetarium show and bio lab experience for school groups that brings in a few hundred additional children, and, every spring, they give away 400 prom dresses to girls who can’t afford them.

Within the actual LESGC building is a Tyra Banks TZONE, a separate and unique space where middle-school girls can participate in an eight-unit course that focuses on self-esteem.

As if this girls club weren’t incredible enough, it has become even more so thanks to a partnership with Tyra Banks, the model, media mogul and, now, philanthropist. Within the actual LESGC building is a Tyra Banks TZONE, a separate and unique space where middle-school girls can participate in an eight-unit course that focuses on self-esteem. The program covers beauty, body image and empowerment. This nearly four-year partnership with the TZONE Foundation had connected the LESGC to increased resources and funding, as well as added a powerful program to their already impressive list of offerings.

Due to the LESGC’s momentum, the challenge is how to control growth. With over 1,000 active girl members, moms and family members, the organization needs more physical space. Additionally, girls’ organizations around the world have asked to partner with them, from as far as Sierra Leone, Glasgow, and Kathmandu. The question Adriana asks is, “How do we replicate what we have done without diluting the primary mission?” Even the donation model has been somewhat unique, according to Adriana. “When I started, our budget was $200,000, and now it’s $2.5 million. It’s amazing how we’ve been able to get major philanthropic support from women.” To continue to expand, the LESGC will need a wider base of donors who truly share their mission while also staying true to their local roots.

While the obstacles of growth are a continual challenge, The Lower Eastside Girls Club has come to represent an essential haven for girls, many of whom have grown up confronted by hardship. High poverty, broken families and local crime create a constant need for girls and women to come together in an effort to improve their conditions, all while bettering themselves. The Lower Eastside Girls Club has demonstrated that not only does girlpower have enough strength to save a girl, but also a family and a community. And, with that kind of power, the rest of the world begins to take notice.

1 Lower Eastside Girls Club Annual Report, 2014.

To learn more about The Lower Eastside Girls Club, please visit www.girlsclub.org.

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