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The Lower Eastside Girls Club (LESGC) connects girls and young women to healthy and successful futures. Our state-of-the-art center offers a safe haven with programs in the arts, sciences, leadership, entrepreneurship, and wellness for middle and high school girls. Programs are offered at no cost to girls and their families.
Our mission is to break the cycle of local poverty by training the next generation of ethical, entrepreneurial and environmental leaders.
LESGC members perceive opportunity, develop self-confidence, make the right relationship choices, grow academically, value wellness, and have the ability to enter college or the workforce as fully prepared and connected adults.
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In 2013 the LESGC moved into a permanent Center for Community on Avenue D – 35,000 sq feet of new state-of-the-art program space dedicated to the advancement of girls and the neighborhood at large.
Mentoring, wellness, arts, academic support and career training programs share space with community programming, STEM initiatives, and environmental and social justice advocacy. The LESGC also runs several social venture businesses that offer job training and employment opportunities for teens and young mothers: The Art+Community Gallery, La Tiendita Fair Trade and Girl Made Gift Shop at the Essex Market, Celebrate Cafe, and the Sweet Things Bake Shop.
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The Lower Eastside Girls Club was founded in 1996 to address the historic lack of services available to girls and young women on the Lower East Side. The effects of inner-city social turmoil which took place in the 1960’s and 70’s throughout the nation hit the Lower East Side community in Manhattan very hard. Our neighborhood experienced unprecedented real estate abandonment and disinvestment as riots flared, buildings burned and drugs were rampant.
Many social service agencies closed their doors and moved during these years, leaving ‘boys only’ services and clubs available. One of the few agencies to remain open and “tough it out” was the Boys Club of New York, operating two full-service facilities for boys. A diverse group of Lower East Side women consisting of mothers, workers, artists, educators, scientists, athletes, businesswomen and community activists organized in 1996 to address this obvious inequity. Soon thereafter The Lower Eastside Girls Club was founded.
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Eighteen years ago, The Lower Eastside Girls Club didn’t exist. No staff, no programs, no building. And, quite frankly, no manual to follow on how to build an innovative and sustainable organization for girls. After identifying this huge gap, we had a mission: start a place that provides services for girls and women in our own backyard. We have consciously set out to create a new model of a community agency, creating a culture that values creativity and experimentation, while putting girls and women at the center of community development and revitalization. Our founding vision was a dual one: to reframe the field of youth development as a ‘whole community’ issue, and to construct a building to house that vision.
As a community-based organization we work to overcome the fragmentation of youth services through partnerships with non-profit organizations that share our mission, with local businesses, academic institutions, faith-based communities, and with our members’ families. By creating a ‘whole-girl’ approach – emphasizing a broad range of cultural competencies needed for success – curiosity, poise, happiness, resiliency, compassion, health and job readiness – we use more than academic performance to benchmark our impact. Our new building is designed to create an integrated experience, where education (like life, in general) is not compartmentalized and all are welcome!
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Today, the Lower East Side continues to be one of the largest, most diverse, and densely populated districts in New York City. It has the third highest population density in the city, with over 163,277 people. The eastern edges of the community have the highest rates of poverty where many residents live on the edge of economic survival. The Lower East Side remains one of the most ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods in New York, with a substantial foreign-born and working poor population. The Girls Club reflects the racial and ethnic diversity of the LES.
According to the 2010 census, the Lower East Side population is 34% Asian, 32% white non-Hispanic, 25% Hispanic, 7% Black/African American, 2% mixed. Notably, the youth population of the LES is even more diverse with 37.2% Hispanic/Latino, 35.9% Asian, 13.3% White, and 10.7% Black. Recent immigrants from Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean Islands and Africa are also represented. Poverty rates in the LES remain some of the highest in the city despite an influx in affluent residents. In fact, the Lower East Side has the third highest number of young people living in poverty in Manhattan, with 39.6% of young people living in poverty. Moreover, 47.3% of LES residents are on some form income support (5,793 on TANF, 13,654 on SSI, and 57,760 on Medicaid). Around 30% of LES residents live in households whose incomes fall below $19,000. The census tracts along the East River, directly across from the Girls Club, indicate that in 2010 over half of families with children had incomes which fell below the poverty line.
This is the community we serve.