Alabama native Connie Hill has been passionate about the nonprofit world for as long as she can remember. Inspired by the mentors who empowered her as a young girl, Connie currently serves as the President and CEO of Girls Inc. of Central Alabama, a nonprofit organization that pushes girls of all cultural and financial backgrounds to be strong, smart and bold. The organization has provided more than 140,000 girls across the country and Canada with life-changing experiences and solutions to the challenges girls, in particular, face each day, empowering them to become healthy, educated and independent. We are delighted to feature Connie Hill as today’s FACE of Birmingham.
Tell us a bit about your professional journey. Did you originally set out to be in the nonprofit world?
I got to go to work with the Birmingham Housing Authority right out of college and started to see the nonprofit world in our city firsthand, and I was hooked. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some fabulous nonprofits in our community and really see people make a difference every day. And every time I have strayed from the path of working in a nonprofit or doing great service, I have felt called back to it. Girls Inc. was one of those “call backs.” I ran Pathways for about eight years and while taking a break doing consulting outside the city, I realized how much I missed making an impact in my hometown. When I was approached by Girls Inc., my 15-year-old daughter came to mind. The mission and programs of Girls Inc. as not only a woman, but the mother of a daughter, just spoke to me, and ultimately, it was that powerful mission that brought me here.
Describe your typical day, and tell us what is most challenging and rewarding about your job.
My job here is to tell our story, make sure our story resonates with the community and ensure that we are being true to our story internally. I can literally go from looking at a spreadsheet to giving a tour in about 30 minutes, and that’s what’s great about the job. It’s especially different in the summer, because we have 200 girls in the center from 7 in the morning until 6 at night. So, we are a quiet office until about 3:30 p.m., when the girls come for after-school programs, but we are open all day, and that’s really, really inspiring. You walk in on girls learning to cook healthier, doing a dance or writing poetry. You really cannot turn a corner without being inspired.
Explain Girls Inc.’s strides to make young women “strong, smart and bold.” Why do you think so many women do not feel that way?
There is so much emphasis on things that aren’t strong, smart and bold. Women say things like “I love that dress. It makes you look so thin,” and it’s just part of our ordinary speech. Not “Wow. I can’t believe how well you handled that meeting.” We’re not just doing this as adults, we’re modeling it for children, and that is just not OK. So these are the three components to our holistic approach.
When we talk about “strong,” we’re talking about healthy living — nutrition, physical fitness and paying attention to your physical health — so you can focus on other things.
When talking about “smart,” obviously we’re talking about academic enrichment, but that looks different at different ages. For us, in particular, we focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and nontraditional professional fields and have some specific programs especially for middle school girls, who may struggle with individuality in regard to academics.
When talking about “bold,” we focus on self-confidence and helping girls set their own destiny, overcome obstacles and learn how to pick themselves up and practice resilience after dealing with inevitable failures. We want to show girls how to find the inner strength to move to the next level, and we believe focusing on taking care of ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally gives girls a foundation to achieve what they want to accomplish. We also do programming related to substance abuse, anti-bullying and prevention of adolescent pregnancy, because those things can hinder you from being your own form of bold.
How can other people become involved with Girls Inc.?
Our Cajun Cook-Off — Girls Inc.’s biggest fundraiser — is April 8, 2017. Companies and groups can have teams to compete with their best Cajun recipes. We also always need volunteers and, right now, we are recruiting mentors to work with groups of four or five to discuss different topics that can help girls, ages 9 to 14. We are one of only 15 organizations to be given a grant from the Department of Justice to do this program, so it’s a really cool opportunity for national recognition.
What do you love most about Birmingham?
I think it has to be the food. I’ve been in Birmingham since the ’80s, and the food just gets better every year. The fact that I can get Indian food and Italian food all in one day is just the best thing. But my favorite overall restaurant and go-to lunch place is Trattoria Centrale.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You really don’t have to do it all by yourself. We are stronger when we ask for help.
Do you have a mentor or role model, and if so why do you admire them or what have they taught you?
I have had several really great mentors in my life. They’ve taught me about hard work and how important it is to work from the bottom up, because then you know how to do everything. I’ve learned a lot about balance and the need for perspective. I’ve learned so much about women’s history and where I stand in history. My own daughter bought me a copy of Lean In for Mother’s Day, so I think it’s important to not only learn from the people who came before us, but to learn from all ages. Mentoring goes both ways, and it’s incredibly important to hear all voices. It’s critical in the nonprofit world to growing our next generation of leaders.
What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
I’m a Quaker. There really aren’t that many in Birmingham, and it does fit perfectly with my value set, but most people don’t know that about me.
What is your best piece of advice?
Remember that you did not get where you are by yourself and to be grateful for those who helped you. And always look for others to help.
Name three frivolous or light-hearted things you can’t live without.
Star Trek, my Kindle app and lemon-poppyseed scones from Continental Bakery
Thank you, Connie, for contributing to the growth and success of Birmingham’s young women through your important and meaningful work! To learn more about Girls Inc., visit girlsinccentral-al.org or call (205) 595-4475.
Thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for the fabulous photos of Connie at the Girls Inc. office at 5130 Eighth Court S., Birmingham, AL 35212.