In 2012, Debra McClendon-Boddie started mentoring girls in Syracuse. Her interest evolved into the PGR Foundation, which prepares girls to live in a diverse world.
A few mentors and five girls met twice a month for educational programs and lessons on social etiquette and self-care; they also gathered monthly for community service projects. Now eight mentors serve 57 Onondaga County girls ages 6 to 18 who often don pink shirts that say Poised, Gifted, and Ready, the phrase created from the organization’s formal name.
During the COVID-19 pandemic PGR provided virtual and socially distanced events. When the new school year unfolded in fall 2020, mentors recognized that some girls did not have laptops or reliable broadband service at home. We provided PGR with a Community Grant to support its Back-to-School Pandemic Preparation Series with the purchase of technology equipment and tutors’ pay.
“We chose those words carefully,” said McClendon-Boddie, a Nottingham High School graduate who retired from Onondaga Community College after a career in employment and training. The “P” in PGR refers to developing poise. “G” involves cultivating the girls’ natural gifts and leadership skills. “R” means they’re ready for life.
“We teach them to conduct themselves in ways that will identify them as being poised, gifted and ready,” McClendon-Boddie said. “We tell them to walk in with their heads held high.”
McClendon-Boddie serves as president of the all-volunteer organization, which provides programs to school-aged girls at no charge. “I want to build relationships between mentors and mentees,” who she calls big sisters and little sisters.
PGR Foundation held its first community fundraiser on March 15, 2020 – just before New York’s governor declared a state of emergency and schools and businesses closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
PGR mentors immediately checked in on the girls. “We wanted to make sure they were OK,” McClendon-Boddie said. “Everyone was trying to adjust. Some parents were working paycheck to paycheck. They were doing the best they could with what they had.”
For months, PGR provided virtual and socially distanced events. When the new school year unfolded in fall 2020, distance-learning appeared likely for the long term. Mentors recognized that some girls did not have laptops or reliable broadband service at home. We provided PGR with a $25,099 Community Grant to support its Back-to-School Pandemic Preparation Series with the purchase of technology equipment and tutors’ pay.
“That was a blessing,” McClendon-Boddie said. “The pandemic created stress on families and exacerbated inequality. Computers helped them stay on track in school and stay connected with us.”
By early summer, she had loaned equipment to several girls whose devices did not work. She expects continued need for tutoring as well. “No matter what they do, we’re going to support them to make sure they’re thriving,” she said.
In June, McClendon-Boddie presided over the organization’s annual recognition ceremony. “I gave each girl a rose,” she said. “If a flower is to be beautiful and healthy inside and out, it must be cultivated.”