Bopha Malone is emphatic about the role of the social service organization Girls Inc. in her life: “I really wouldn’t be who I am and where I am today if it wasn’t for their help.”
Now she is welcoming the opportunity to give back.
The Bedford Select Board member and Middlesex Community College trustee this week began her new role as interim executive director of Girls Inc. of Greater Lowell. She “has committed to that role for a full year while the Board of Directors conducts a nationwide search for a permanent leader,” the organization announced.
Malone was nine years old when she and her parents landed in Lynn, refugees from persecution in Cambodia. “My parents wanted to give me a better future, but they didn’t know how to help me,” she related. “My parents wanted me to be a traditional Cambodian girl by staying home and doing chores and things like that.”
As a result, Malone continued, as she encountered activities and opportunities, “I was often scared and intimidated.”
When she was 15, she learned about Girls Inc., whose mission includes helping girls “learn to value their whole selves, discover and develop their inherent strengths, and receive the support they need to navigate the challenges they face.” Malone recounted, “By the time I got there, I had a lot of issues and I needed a lot of support.”
“Girls Inc. took me in. They believed in me during a time when I didn’t believe in myself,” Malone testified. “They taught me different skills, as well as to teach my peers. Because of the things they shared with me, I felt more confident. Instead of feeling intimidated, I felt encouraged.”
At the Lynn branch, Malone served as a peer leader, educating youth about racism, homophobia, and the dangers of tobacco use and gun violence, among other issues. Girls Inc., a national non-profit that serves girls ages 5-18, emphasizes values like healthy living, academic enrichment, and skills and behaviors that increase confidence and resilience.
For Malone, the mentorship continued through high school. “All of the women who were part of the program helped me” with things like college visits and financial-aid forms, and even as an undergraduate business student at Lesley University “they still stood with me and helped me get through it.” Now, “It’s nice to come full circle. I am honored to have this opportunity.”
It’s full circle in more than one way. Malone related that right after college, she wanted to spend time in Cambodia to learn first-hand about and connect with her heritage and language. She said she financed the year from grants she wrote with assistance from the college and from Girls Inc.
Each month, Malone said, she sent a written report to her sponsors, one of whom was Carol Duncan, executive director of Girls Inc. of Greater Lowell. As her year neared its end, she mentioned that she would be looking for a job. Carol Duncan’s husband is George Duncan, founder of Enterprise Bank.
Last week Malone completed her 16th year with the bank, where as a vice president she specialized not only in sales and business development but also as almost a goodwill ambassador to community organizations.
The bank “allowed me to be a part of the community. In order for them to be successful, the community has to be successful. This is what connected me to Lowell and got me involved with Lowell,” she said, acknowledging mixed emotions as she leaves Enterprise. “I am very blessed. I’ve gotten so many chances to be able to help people, to be a trusted advisor for people.”
Enterprise Bank “gave me the freedom to do what makes a difference. They trained me well, and through the bank, I’ve been equipped to help with this.” Indeed, for more than five years Malone was a member of the board of Girls Inc. of Greater Lowell.
She noted that she still has an office downtown, and now will focus on building participation in the branch’s program and activities. “Now, at this point,” she said, “I am able to give back to the girls.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763