Girls Inc. of Orange County’s 70th Anniversary Gala raises more than $540,000 for girls’ empowerment

Girls Inc. of Orange County, the Santa Ana-based affiliate of the national non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart and bold, announced the resounding success of their 70th Anniversary Gala, the “Strong, Smart and Bold Future Tour.”

Held at the Balboa Bay Resort on April 20, this landmark event not only celebrated seven decades of empowering girls but also rallied support for Girls Inc.’s research-based programs focusing on STEM, literacy, college and career readiness, healthy relationships, sound body image and advocacy.

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Photos by Kimberly Kulak

(L-R) Kate Phelan (US Bank) and Kendra Miller (BJs Restaurants), event chairs

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Girls Boss merch stands with (L-R): Kylie Cervantes and Crystal Cervantes

In a remarkable showcase of entrepreneurship and creativity, three inspiring Girls Inc. Girl Bosses took the stage during the cocktail hour opening reception, showcasing their own businesses and products. Guests had the opportunity to support these young entrepreneurs by purchasing items from Sister Slime, offering a colorful array of homemade slime creations; Lyn Loves Beads, featuring intricately handmade jewelry pieces, and Ideal Luxury, presenting a curated selection of upscale clothing and accessories. The presence of these budding businesswomen added a vibrant touch to the evening and exemplified Girls Inc.’s commitment to fostering leadership and economic empowerment among young girls.

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(L-R) Whitney Cohen and Makenzie Dowlin served as the masters of ceremony

At the heart of the gala’s success were two extraordinary Girls Inc. girls, Makenzie and Whitney, who served as the evening’s Masters of Ceremony. Their poised demeanor, confident presence and eloquent delivery not only captivated the audience but also underscored the transformative influence of Girls Inc. programs in cultivating leadership and self-confidence among young women.

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Emily Olvera was the keynote speaker

The gala also featured an inspiring keynote address by Emily Olvera, a distinguished alumna of Girls Inc. of Orange County. She shared her personal journey, recounting how she began attending Girls Inc. when she was just in second grade. Olvera eloquently expressed how Girls Inc. had profoundly impacted her life, providing unwavering support and guidance through every stage of her development. Her heartfelt testimony emphasized the enduring influence of Girls Inc. in shaping confident, resilient and empowered young women.

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Girls Inc. alumnae, Girls Meet the Workforce participants and Girl Bosses with CEO Lucy Santana

With the generous support of sponsors including US Bank, BJ’s Restaurants, The Gena Reed Family Foundation, Janet and Mike Michels, Sue and Ralph Stern, Kiel Lowen and Kate Phelan-Lowen, Ingram Micro, and Dan and Kendra Miller, the gala exceeded all fundraising goals, raising more than $540,000. These funds will enable Girls Inc. of Orange County to expand its reach and continue empowering girls to be strong, smart and bold.

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BJs Restaurant team (L-R): Julie Spooner, Heidi Rogers, Krysteen Romero, Kendra Miller, Dawn Archuleta and Stephanie Atencio

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Northern Trust team (L-R): Kamao and Katie Shaw, Sage and Monica Lopez, and Leyna and Colin Zarbough

Since its humble beginning in 1954, when it served 133 girls, Girls Inc. of Orange County has grown exponentially, now reaching more than 9,000 girls in 2023. The success of this gala propels the organization towards its ambitious goal of serving more than 13,000 girls from kindergarten to college and beyond by 2027.

“We are immensely grateful to our sponsors, attendees and supporters for their unwavering dedication to girls’ empowerment,” said Lucy Santana, CEO of Girls Inc. of Orange County. “Together, we are creating a future where every girl has the opportunity to fulfill her potential and lead with strength, intelligence and boldness.”

For those who missed the gala but wish to support Girls Inc. of Orange County’s mission, opportunities for involvement and contribution are still available. Visit for more information on how you can make a difference.


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