The banquet room at Cortland Mansion was packed Saturday night with sophisticated guests, but 17-year-old Christina Thompson's voice was confident as she took the microphone with a cheerful, "Hello everyone!"
Six years ago, when Thompson joined Girls Inc., this would have been unthinkable, she told guests at Girls Inc.'s Grapes for Girls dinner and wine-tasting fundraiser.
"I was a shy, quiet girl," she said. "I barely spoke above a whisper and I had practically no self-confidence."
Girls Inc. changed that, expanding Thompson's world through trips and a library full of books, and providing hot meals and caring mentors at a time when her home life was falling apart, she said. Girls Inc. even matched Thompson with a family that later went on to become her foster family, she said.
Today, Thompson is a senior at the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts and spends her summers working at Girls Inc. to help provide other young girls with the experiences that changed her life.
"I've learned the value of money, and I know it won't take much to make a difference in a girl's life," she said, encouraging guests to continue to support Girls Inc.
Guests at the fundraiser also heard from Tiffany Wissinger, 27, who said she began attending Girls Inc. as a fifth-grader when her parents were going through a divorce and she had been acting out, skipping school and earning poor grades.
Today, Wissinger works as a family nurse practitioner, teaches Sunday school and owns a home in Waynesboro, Pa., with her husband of four years. They have an 18-month-old daughter and are expecting another baby in February.
"I just want to thank all of you who are here today and all of you who give because you are not giving in vain," she said. "You're really blessing a lot of lives."
More than 200 guests attended the $100-per-ticket event, which organizers hoped would raise about $35,000 for Girls Inc., Executive Director Maureen Grove said.
The event included a four-course dinner with a different wine paired with each course. Guests also had an opportunity to bid on silent-auction items, sample other wines, taste unique beer at an international beer garden sponsored by Wantz Distributors, and enjoy cheese from Palmyra Farms and chocolate from The Perfect Truffle.
The event was sponsored by Centra Bank as well as several other local businesses and individuals, Grove said.
Erica Gordon Hyman, who co-chaired the event, said organizers know people have a lot of choices for how to spend their philanthropic dollars, but encourage them to support Girls Inc. because of its important role in the community. Girls Inc. of Washington County is the only Girls Inc. organization in Maryland, Hyman said.