Women leaders in the Columbus community kept a lunch date with those following in their footsteps, encouraging the “great girls” of the city to keep striving to become “wonderful women.”

Foundation for Youth and Faurecia hosted the second annual Great Girls Wonderful Women luncheon Monday at FFY.

This year’s event more than doubled in attendance from the first luncheon last year, from just over 100 to more than 250 this year.

While the event is a fundraiser to provide scholarships for girls who can’t afford registration fees to FFY programming, it’s also a table-by-table mentorship opportunity for girls to meet successful women in the community.

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Each table at the luncheon had seats for several girls who participate in Girls on the Run or Smart Girls programs — programs offered through FFY and the Boys and Girls Club, and for those who participate in Big Brothers Big Sisters.

And it was a chance for Tracy Embree, an FFY board member who is also a corporate vice president at Cummins Inc. and president of the company’s components group, to talk about bravery, and how stepping out of her comfort zone changed her life.

The luncheon was emceed by Nicole Pence, who grew up in Columbus and is a morning anchor at CBS4/WTTV in Indianapolis.

In her keynote speech, Embree detailed several points during her life where she was required to make a choice to be brave.

From trying out for cheerleading in the seventh grade, as a fairly quiet middle schooler, to attending a four-week science and engineering camp in high school far from home and making a decision to pursue engineering, Embree gave insights into developing a mindset of courage.

And girls and women alike in the audience laughed along with her as she provided a story about her college days, when she took an exam for an engineering class that she confidently thought she had “aced.”

When the professor wrote on the board that the scores from the 100-point test ranged from 9 to 96, Embree still wasn’t deterred.

“I was certain I didn’t get a 9,” she said, and was pretty sure she was close the 96.

“I got a 12,” she deadpanned. “Out of 100.”

Embree said she remembers sitting in the lecture hall feeling embarrassed, scared and nervous, asking herself what kind of engineer thinks she rocked a test and gets a “12.”

But it turned out her lab partner turned over his test page, and he had the 96.

Leaning over to her, he said, “Tracy, you got this, you are as smart as anyone here. I’ll help you,” she said. “And he did.”

She also talked to the professor and figured out she knew the concepts, but hadn’t shown that on the exam, something that could be fixed.

“I learned the bravest thing I could do was reach out and talk to others, and listen and get help,” she said.

She eventually received a “B” in the course, and graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, something she said opened doors that she could not have imagined.

And there was one more lesson from college, when she didn’t make the ballot for her college sorority presidency, that taught her to take credit for the work she has accomplished and speak up about her abilities and strengths.

As part of her talk, Embree challenged each attendee to help create a “Courage Wall” at FFY — asking each person to either write one great thing they have done or what brave thing they plan to do in the future. The posters will then be displayed to inspire girls to remember to be brave.

Laura Moses, program director for Big Brothers Big Sisters for Bartholomew and Brown counties, went around the room talking to girls in FFY programs and the women who lead those programs.

Missy Reese, an Army veteran who retired as a sergeant first class after three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, now works with the Smart Girls program. She talked about her efforts to help girls craft a vision for their future and the path to get there.

She said military service has given her the inspiration to give some bravery back and share what her own experiences have meant to her path in life. She encourages girls to make a vision board of what they want their life to look like, and how they plan to get there.

Melina Embrey, a fourth-grader at Clifty Creek Elementary, participates in Girls on the Run, a program that trains girls on how to run a 5K.

“I wanted to do it because it inspires me to be healthier,” she said.

Megan Forster, a former teacher who has founded her own small business, talked about her experiences as a big sister to Nayeli Alejandro, 12, a student at Smith Elementary.

“I’ve learned so much from her,” Forster said of Alejandro. “She’s become part of my family.”

Alejandro brought tears to Forster’s eyes when she said that Forster was her idol and who she wanted to be.

“She just gets me,” Alejandro said of her Big Sister.

Moses said the interactions between the girls and their mentors reminded her of a quote that she had heard on a Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) talk by Margaret Heffernan, entrepreneur and author, about mentoring.

Quoting Heffernan, she said, “Bringing out the best in others is how we bring out the best in ourselves.”

As the girls and women, and yes, a few men in the crowd, left the FFY gym after the event, the poster boards were left on the tables, and revealed some of the brave things already completed or yet to be attempted.

“I cleaned up the Earth,” one message said. “I won’t be afraid to be myself,” said another. “To be more confident when I sing,” yet another said.

Embree said she planned to check out the posters when she comes back for an FFY board meeting next month and is looking forward to seeing what the messages reveal.

One message Embree will see on her return was this promise to be brave, written in blue marker on a corner of a poster board:

“I will now raise my hand. I will never give up. I will never quit. I will have courage.”

FFY programming for girls

Girls on the Run

Available to girls ages 8 to 13, offered in the fall and spring, Girls on the Run focuses on empowerment, responsibility and connectedness, while training for a 5k run at the end of the program. Participants receive a T-shirt, water bottle, running journal and an entry fee to the 5k, and medals and trophies to participants.

Smart Girls

For girls ages 8 to 17, participants participate in classes about healthy lifestyles and attitudes, with programming including group activities, field trips and mentorship opportunities with women in the community. Character, self-discipline and teamwork are emphasized.

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Provides a child with a one-to-one relationship to provide help in encouraging higher aspirations, educational success and better relationship.

Boys and Girls Club programming

Provides activities that support character and leadership development, education and career development, and opportunities in sports, fitness and the arts.

For more information on FFY programs: foundationforyouth.com/programs

Pull Quote

“I learned the bravest thing I could do was reach out and talk to others, and listen and get help.”

— Tracee Embree, Cummins Inc., event keynote speaker on one college lesson she learned

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.