The “Great Girls” who mingled with the “Wonderful Women” of the Columbus community at Foundation For Youth each received a bracelet as an encouragement for the future.

Each bracelet had the words, “She believed she could, so she did.”

Believing in yourself was the overriding theme of Tuesday’s Great Girls, Wonderful Women celebration, where girls who participate in FFY programs are seated among female leaders in the Columbus community at a luncheon where they share hopes, dreams and future ambitions.

The event, co-sponsored by Faurecia, drew 220 guests whose participation helps provide funding to make sure any girl who wishes to participate in FFY programming, such as Smart Girls and Girls on the Run, can afford to do so despite their family’s circumstances.

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For its third year, organizers were elated to have a Wonderful Woman participant from 2016, Maria Stack, volunteer as keynote speaker this year.

She was inspired by last year’s speaker, FFY board member Tracy Embree, and told Karina Willats, the organization’s resource development director, that although public speaking wasn’t her forte, she wanted to give it a try.

Speaker’s story

Stack, human resources supervisor at NTN Driveshaft in Columbus, made a name for herself on the basketball court.

When playing for Columbus East, Stack was a member of the 1980 state-runnerup team and was named the 1980 Miss Basketball and most valuable player in the state tournament. She went on to compete at Otero, Colorado Junior College, San Diego State and Gonzaga, where she won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith award as the nation’s top player shorter than 5 feet, 8 inches tall. She was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007. Several of her scoring and rebounding records still stand at the high school and college level.

But it was a time long before that, when she was an elementary student in Bartholomew County and participating in FFY programs in Columbus, that Stack wanted to talk about during the luncheon.

“We were all born to do something great,” she said as she began her story. “You are in control of your own destiny.”

Stack started playing sports when she was 3 or 4 years old, remembering holding a bat and wanting to play baseball with her brothers. When he was 7, her brothers were playing on a team in Brown County and their team was missing a player — so they asked her to try it.

“They nudged me to go out there, and I never looked back,” she said.

When she was 11, she decided to try out for a Little League boys baseball team in Petersville, telling the coach she wanted to play catcher. When he told her it was an important position, I told him, “of course,” she said. She won most valuable player honors with that team and then pivoted to trying out for another all-male domain — high school boys basketball.

At that time, there were no school sports for girls, so Stack went in to ask for a physical form to try out for boys’ basketball, something that was met with astonishment — but later with acceptance when schools began organizing girls athletic teams, she said.

“To the girls in the room, you need to know you have so many opportunities now,” she said.

She attributed her success to perseverance, showing some grit and a work ethic that would not quit.

“I work hard at everything and anything I do,” she said. “I believe that good things come to people who work really hard.”

Stack said too many times, people fail, and then give up.

“Failure is OK,” she said. “Quitting on your dreams is not.”

Need for mentoring

There was also a message to the Wonderful Women in the room about mentorship, with Stack mentioning the critical role that certain coaches have played in her journey to the pinnacle of women’s basketball, and how their guidance continues to help her today.

“We need to be celebrating all our successes, no matter how big or small,” she said of the role of encouragement for girls in society today. “Today, take a few moments, slow down and appreciate what you have accomplished. And all women should be celebrating each other and supporting each other.”

Stack played two songs during her presentation, the first “We are the Champions,” by Queen as photos of Girls on the Run participants completed their 5k run, and “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy, with lyrics about empowerment for women.

On all the tables were NTN compact mirrors and Stack asked all the girls and women to take them out, look in the mirror, and affirm the good qualities they see there — the loving, brave, courageous, worthy of being admired individuals that they are.

“If you do not believe in yourself, no one will believe in you,” she said. “Girls, no matter what you do, find something you are passionate about and work hard at it.”

Stack received an enthusiastic round of applause for her talk and the girls and women were invited to return to their conversations for a short time before the event concluded.

The program included a sheet of “conversation starters” to help the girls and women get to know each other, but many of the table-mates found they didn’t need to consult it.

Karen Dutro of Columbus was talking with Ellie Jones, 8, who participates in cheer practice at FFY.

“We’ve been talking about lots of things — her favorite subject is math,” Dutro said of getting to know Jones over lunch. “I told her that was wonderful.”

Jones told Dutro that when she grew up, she wanted to be a cheer coach.

“Because you get to boss people around,” she said, as Dutro laughed at her answer.

Kyla Havidic of Columbus was sitting next to Columbus Regional Hospital executive assistant Jane Tompkins, and talking about goals and the future.

Havidic, 13, told Tompkins she wants to be a teacher, and was also teaching Tompkins how fidget spinners work, much to Tompkins’ amusement.

Another “Great Girl,” Lucy Wilson, 11, was scheduled to emcee the event with Indianapolis television personality Nicole Pence, who was unable to attend due to an illness in her family.

Although Wilson, a fifth grader at CSA Lincoln, admitted to being a little nervous, she carried on like a trooper, working with FFY’s Brittany Gray to welcome guests, introduce speakers and talk about the importance of supporting programming for young women at FFY.

Wilson closed the program by thanking those who attended the event.

“Thank you for supporting girls at the Foundation For Youth,” Wilson said. “You made a difference.”

FFY programs 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

How to help

To learn how to donate to help programming needs at Foundation for Youth, visit foundationforyouth.com/donate

To learn more about mentoring and volunteer opportunities, visit foundationforyouth.com/volunteer

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