Starting at Girls Inc. of Jackson County as a part-time extension director and later becoming the program director, Brenda Tracy said she liked her job so much she didn’t think she wanted any other position.
When Rexanne Ude resigned as executive director in 2006 after 25 years with Girls Inc., someone had to step into that role.
At first, Tracy didn’t want to apply. The capital campaign for the new facility at 956 N. O’Brien St. in Seymour had just been completed, and they were preparing for the grand opening.
But she then changed her mind and applied.
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“I threw my hat in the ring and said, ‘You know what? I’ll take a stab at it,’” she said. “The board hired me immediately then. Since that day, I haven’t looked back with any regrets.”
Now in her 30th year with Girls Inc., once known as Girls Club, Tracy decided it’s time to retire. She’ll be joined by her husband, Tom, who is retiring from Cummins Inc. after 46 years.
“I have loved what I’ve done because I still see the difference that we make in girls’ lives,” she said.
“Even though I don’t have the one-on-one direct connection with all of the girls, I still get to be involved in a lot of the activities,” she said. “Then I make sure everything is going smoothly here with the staff and with the programs and the direction that our organization is heading and looking toward the future and making sure that we’re solid. It has been very, very rewarding.”
Before she started at Girls Inc., Tracy was a stay-at-home mom with part-time jobs. She also was her daughter’s Girl Scout troop leader and served as a regional director to help recruit Girl Scout leaders for the area. Both of those were on a volunteer basis.
At one point, her husband saw an advertisement in the newspaper about Girls Club needing a part-time extension director.
“He said, ‘This sounds a lot like what you do for free, and they are wanting to pay somebody to do this,’” she said, laughing. “He said, ‘Maybe you ought to think about applying for that,’ so I did.”
Tracy was hired, and her job involved coordinating Girls Club programs at schools in Brownstown, Crothersville and Medora.
She found volunteers to teach classes, from cheerleading to cooking to science.
‘Director at heart’
Girls Club changed to Girls Inc. in the 1980s. In 1991, Girls Inc. was in need of a full-time program director, so Tracy switched roles. She oversaw all of the programs at the Seymour facility, which was on Second Street at the time, and taught classes in the schools.
Her years in that role helped when she became the organization’s 18th executive director since its establishment in Seymour in 1942.
“It was really good being an executive director having been a program director because I understand all the programs, I know how they work,” she said. “The national organization has asked me to be on several committees knowing that I’m a program director at heart.”
Tracy said the national organization relies on the executive directors to provide feedback and suggestions since they interact with girls on a daily basis.
“The things don’t come from the top down,” she said. “All of their programs come from feedback and things they hear from people that work with the kids, and the national organization takes that into consideration.”
In the top leadership position, Tracy is in charge of hiring and directing staff, which has increased in numbers over the years. She also works with the board of directors to ensure everything is financially sound and within budget and writes grants.
There have been a lot of changes in programs, she said. They went from being centered a lot around dance to focusing on science, technology, engineering and math.
“We know that’s where the higher-paying jobs are,” she said. “We want girls to concentrate on those … see what you’re capable of and achieve your dreams that way and to go for it.”
In the schools, third-graders learn about child abuse prevention, and seventh- and eighth-graders learn about preventing teen pregnancy and drug and alcohol abuse. There also is an after-school program available.
‘Serve the needs’
Tracy said the county is fortunate to have both Girls Inc. and the Boys & Girls Club of Seymour available to local youth. There are 80 Girls Inc. organizations in the United States, including seven in Indiana.
“The community really sees the value of Girls Inc. because we do the informal education that makes up for what girls don’t get elsewhere,” she said.
And it’s only for girls.
“They find their voices here, and then they have the adults that work here, they have the volunteers, and then they have the teen girls as role models of how to behave and how to stand up for yourself and things,” she said. “Then the programs that we have, our national organization just has wonderful programs.”
Girls Inc. of Jackson County has developed a good relationship with the national organization. It currently is part of a pilot program to capture data for the Girls Inc. experience.
“We know that girls that go through here and spend a significant amount of time here are more likely to graduate and go on to college and less likely to become pregnant,” Tracy said. “But now, we’re going to have data that proves that.”
Ude said the national organization seeking out assistance from Girls Inc. of Jackson County is a tribute to Tracy’s leadership.
Ude and Tracy worked together for more than 20 years. Ude, who served as executive director from 1985 to 1990 and again from 1994 to 2006, said they worked well together and understood and respected each other. They had different styles, but Ude said it worked great.
“We all had the same goal in mind — to best serve the needs of the girls in the community and develop girls to be strong and smart and bold and internalize that tagline and vision,” Ude said.
Ude, who now is director of development at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour and executive director of the Schneck Foundation, said Tracy helped increase the number of staff and club members.
When she thinks of Tracy, Ude said, a quote by President Calvin Coolidge comes to mind: “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”
“I think it just really speaks to the person that Brenda is and the work that she has done,” Ude said. “Brenda has a very quiet passion. I say that because she’s very humble, and people don’t always see or realize the kind of things that she has given to the organization and to the girls just from her heart because she’s very quiet behind the scenes about it.”
Ude said Tracy’s passion shows when girls come back to the facility years later just to visit with her.
“I just think all of those things together exemplify Brenda, and I think that this Girls Inc. organization and the community have just been very blessed to have somebody that committed and so willing to be a servant leader,” Ude said.
As for the decision to retire, Tracy said she had planned on working a couple of more years. Earlier this year, though, her husband suggested they retire together at the end of this year.
“I thought, ‘Well, you know, I love what I do, I could do it longer, but I can be happy retired, too,” she said, smiling.
Since she doesn’t like Indiana winters, Tracy said she and her husband will spend that season in Tucson, Arizona. Other times of the year, they will live in their Lutheran Lake home in Bartholomew County.
“I will miss being here all of the time, being on top of what’s going on here and everything,” she said. “I will miss the staff, I will miss the board, but I won’t miss driving in bad weather.”
They also plan to spend more time with their four grandchildren and do some traveling, and Brenda Tracy wants to find more time for her hobbies, including reading, walking and hiking.
‘I made a difference’
She said deciding to retire wasn’t hard because she knows she will leave with Girls Inc. in good standing.
“We’ve got a full board, and they are a hardworking board. They know where we’re going,” she said.
“The staff is very seasoned. We don’t have turnover in staff, and everybody knows what they are going, and they do their job well. When I go on vacation, there’s not a beat missed. Everything just goes how it should.”
Girls Inc. of Jackson County also is well respected by the national organization and the community, she said.
“It’s a good time to be able to walk away and turn the reins over,” she said.
The board of directors will begin the search for Tracy’s replacement this month. She said she plans to work with that person for the month of December so they are prepared for the transition.
Her advice to her successor is to find a balance between working and making time for yourself and your family.
“It’s easy to become involved in the kids’ lives, but you do have to just put that in perspective of ‘I can help them as much as I can help them. I can’t take them all home with me, but I know made a difference,’” she said. “It’s very, very rewarding because you see the results of what you do.”
While she has made an impact on many girls’ lives, she said she has grown, too.
“When I took over, I did not like being the buck-stops-here person or the one that had to go and speak at all of the community things,” she said. “But I can do that now. I’ve grown, and the staff, I see them grow with their jobs; and things different staff members couldn’t do before, they are now taking on those responsibilities.”
Name: Brenda Tracy
Hometown: Grew up in Columbus and Seymour
Residence: Lutheran Lake in Bartholomew County
Education: Columbus High School (1970); attended Ball State University
Occupation: Retiring at the end of this year after 30 years with Girls Club and Girls Inc. of Jackson County, including the past nine as executive director
Family: Husband, Tom Tracy; children, Angie (Kyle) Wieneke and Jason (Michelle) Tracy; grandchildren, Evan Wieneke, Marin Wieneke, Lauren Tracy and Megan Tracy
For information about Girls Inc. of Jackson County, visit girlsincjackson.org.