By Darlene Donloe
Gloria Davis’ enthusiasm for the Girls Club of Los Angeles is infectious.
The pride she exudes when she talks about the organization’s record of changing the lives of so many children and families is palpable.
In her 30-year stint as the organization’s executive director, she has gone above and beyond to ensure that the young people entrusted to the organization become the best versions of themselves.
“When I agreed to take the position, it was about the community and how we could move the community forward,” said Davis, a single mother of one daughter. “At the time, it was underserved.”
For three decades, Davis, who studied psychology at Talladega College, has helmed the Girls Club of Los Angeles, a group organized under the guidance of the National Girls Club of America, which officially began operations on June 12, 1972.
The initial leadership was Los Angeles Unified School District teacher Clara Hood, with sponsorship from the board of the Epworth Methodist Church in South Los Angeles. This non-sectarian, nonprofit organization was the first of its kind to be organized in Los Angeles under Girls Incorporated, formerly the National Girls Club of America.
The children/young adults that participate in the Girls Club range in age from 2-24. The clientele is 50% Black and 50% Latino. It’s 60% boys and 40% girls.
Davis applauds the help she receives in running the organization.
“We have a number of people who believe in our mission,” said Davis, who is originally from Eutaw, Alabama. “I don’t take credit for anything. I couldn’t do it without them. I see them perform miracles every day.”
I recently caught up with Davis to talk about the continued efforts of the Girls Club of Los Angeles, which has served more than 150,000 children from communities that border Inglewood, Hawthorne,Watts, Compton, Leimert Park and South L.A.
DD: What did you want to achieve when you took the job?
GD: The Girls Club was only serving girls when it came to doing youth development. The families wanted something for their boys. Bringing the Westminster Neighborhood Association in Watts — where I used to work — under the Girls Club allowed us to serve boys and girls. We serve the youth population.
DD: What are you most proud of since becoming the executive director?
GD: That’s a hard question. Seeing the children, families and youth being able to go to the next level is wonderful. Preschool to kindergarten, youth graduating from high school and graduating from college. Seeing milestones along the way. I’m astonished. Seeing all the achievements of families and children in the community. They go to college and come back and work at the Girls Club. I had one young lady who is now a judge in Georgia. Some of our children have gone on and become authors, and some are working for the county, the city, the police department, you name it.
DD: Talk about your programming.
GD: Our programs are from cradle to career. It starts from infants to 92. We have intergenerational programs. We have foster grandparents who come in and work with young people. It’s a unique pipeline of early education, community building and strengthening. Our service is their wrap-around. We are a one-stop shop. If we can’t provide the service, we make referrals. We have a weekly food program every Wednesday. We are in a food desert. We do 200 bags a week. We did 600 during COVID.
DD: Describe how you have touched families and changed lives.
GD: So many ways. I already talked about the programming. We also do clothing. We try to do any type of support the community needs. We have mental health referrals and counseling. We are part of the community response system of South Los Angeles, consisting of 30 nonprofits.
DD: The mission of Girls Club of Los Angeles is to enrich the lives of the underserved. How do you accomplish this?
GD: It’s not just about academic advancement. It’s a holistic approach. It’s about the whole adult. We’ve established an overall well-being approach. From our perspective, that’s why we approach holistically. We see things as a whole and see the relationship of all the parts. We have to understand the whole person. It’s not just about giving a person some food. It’s a tall order but we have an excellent staff and a lot of community partners.
DD: What kind of personal changes in the girls can you point to and say it’s a result of the Girls Club?
GD: A young lady came in with her mom. They were eating junk food. We don’t want folks bringing food in. She got enrolled and attended the local schools. She became a strong advocate for eating healthy. She went to Berkeley and graduated. She is now an entrepreneur doing a health and fitness business. One young lady is a book author. She wrote a couple of books and has come back to read and share her book with students. The book was about loving yourself.
DD: What is the focus of the Faith Children’s Center and the Youth Development Program?
GD: The focus is to enrich the lives of more than 200 children and families by offering school readiness high-quality early education, as well as family support services.
In addition, our youth development program strengthens and promotes positive, healthy lifestyles and encourages responsible decision-making among community at-risk youth ages 11 to 18. Safeness, wellness and readiness is the foundation of the curriculum.
DD: Talk about the job-readiness program and your community engagement.
GD: Those involved in the job-readiness program get paid $15 an hour. They might help as a child care assistant or food service or office or a program assistant. They have to be 14-24 years old. The program is income-based. They have to be low-income.
When it comes to community engagement, there is a foster grandparent program, a collaboration with Pepperdine University that offers a multigenerational approach to community volunteerism by giving seniors the opportunity to volunteer with youth. They get a stipend.
We also have an extended opportunity for adults through the CalWORKs Transitional Subsidized Employment Work Experience Program with South Bay Workforce Investment Board. It’s for those who are 18 and older. We have mothers and fathers who want to transition into the workforce. It’s a welfare-to-work program. They can get trained in the office or classroom. They can be a preschool assistant or a cook or something else.
DD: Any new programming?
GD: We are starting new programs this year. We have a Violence Prevention Program with the Board of State Community Corrections.
We are expanding our early education program. At our facility, we can only serve so many children. So we just received funding from the Department of Social Services to expand daily daycare providers in the community. We can pay for low-income families for so many slots in family daycare homes and centers. We’re able to do that through the $3.2 million grants we received in July. That’s our way of expanding beyond the facility. We can go out in the community and help other individuals.
DD: Your 50th anniversary is coming.
GD: Next year we will have open houses so folks can see what we’re doing. There will also be a name change. The current name does not define who we are right now.
DD: What do you say to yourself at the end of the day?
GD: It’s like being a cashier. Did I balance? When I cashed out today, did everything balance out? Some days it’s about praying and releasing it and just being grateful. Did I give everything I needed to give today? I have a concerning spirit. Did I overlook anyone I could have helped, and I didn’t? I want to be there for people because it’s mutually beneficial for me. I’m able to sleep when I’ve given 100%.
“The Q&A” is a feature of Wave Newspapers asking provocative or engaging questions of some of L.A.’s most popular newsmakers or celebrities.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.