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Program is good for girls

December 09, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Maureen Grove relishes the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of girls through her work as executive director of Girls Inc. of Washington County.

"I really do love this job. I love the challenges. I love dealing with the parents. I love it all," said Grove, who took over as executive director in December 1997. "I feel blessed that I look forward to coming to work every day."

Those who know "Miss Maureen" praise her heartfelt efforts to help fulfill for as many girls as possible the nonprofit agency's mission to shape its members into responsible, self-sufficient and confident young women.

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It's a tough and emotional job that demands Grove juggle roles as administrator, teacher, counselor, mediator, parent figure and police officer to run a daily "safe haven" for dozens of children who are often among society's forgotten, she said.

And while society may give up on some of the children, Grove and Girls Inc. never do.

"Even though they might make some bad choices, we're there for them. It's unconditional love," said Grove, 32, of Hagerstown. "We never give up on our girls. They are very important to me."

During her nearly 10-year career at Girls Inc., Grove has shared the struggles and triumphs of hundreds of girls in the often tumultuous journey from childhood into puberty and adolescence, she said.

"You form strong bonds," Grove said. "You do get very attached emotionally."

She's reviewed club members' report cards, watched their sporting events, listened to their boy problems, attended their high school graduations, gone with them to visit prospective colleges and cradled their children.

"She helps keep their heads straight," said Dave Sprankle of Hagerstown, whose daughter, Erica Horst, is a former club member. "She's a real good listener."

Life skills

About 100 girls ages 5 to 18 now go to the center at 626 Washington Ave. every day after school to participate in a variety of academic, athletic, recreational and life skills-building programs offered from 2:30 to 8 p.m., Grove said.

The girls - who are supervised by six full-time and eight part-time staff members and volunteers who help with homework, transportation and activities - enjoy numerous special events and field trips, Grove said.

"They do it all. They have everything there," said Debbie Shrader of Hagerstown, who has five daughters enrolled at Girls Inc. "I refer people to Girls Inc. all the time in my travels.

"Miss Maureen really listens and tries to help. She always has time for people."

Grove strives to model for club members - and her own three young children - the positive values instilled in her by her parents, Peggy and Jim Ungvarsky, she said.

Respect is key at Girls Inc., Grove said.

"The girls don't have to like everybody, but they have to show respect for everybody in this building," she said.

Respect is but one of the positive values club membership fostered in Girls Inc. alumni Samantha Billman and Kendal Brown, they said.

"I learned how to be a leader and all kinds of social skills," said Brown, 18, who is attending Salisbury (Md.) University with help from a Girls Inc. scholarship. "I probably wouldn't even have thought about college if it wouldn't have been for Miss Maureen. She's done so much for me."

Billman, 18, credits Grove with boosting her confidence and teaching her "everything I know about volleyball." After learning the sport at Girls Inc., Billman joined middle and high school volleyball teams, she said.

She attends Hagerstown Community College with hopes of transferring to a four-year university to study occupational therapy, she said.

"I owe a lot to Miss Maureen," Billman said. "She's very caring and understanding. I could always tell her anything"

'Temporary' job

Grove took what she thought would be a temporary job at the club in 1993 after graduating from college with a degree in education, she said.

"I told my father it was just until I got a real job - but I never left," Grove said. "I loved it."

Grove at first worked as a program director under the guidance of longtime Girls Inc. leader Ruth Llewellyn, who taught her the importance of the club's mission.

"Mrs. L. always stressed how important it was for the girls to have a place where they could learn to be leaders. She was wonderful," Grove said.

Maggie Brill took over as executive director for about three years after Llewellyn retired in early 1994, but enrollments dropped. The club had been leaderless for about three months when tragedy struck in September 1997. A 7-year-old club member drowned during a swimming outing at the Hagerstown YMCA.

Grove, who was the club's program director at the time, still hesitates to discuss the darkest time in the club's history and the point in her career when she "almost gave up."

"I think about it every day," she said, eyes tearing. "I felt like we let the whole community down."

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