The Profiler: Girls Inc.'s Karen Kenney

The Profiler: Girls Inc.'s Karen Kenney

Jess Nelson
Karen Kenney

Photo from the Girls Inc. of the Island City website.

Girls Inc. of the Island City has provided services to children in Alameda for over half a century. For nearly a decade, Karen Kenney has helmed the organization as its executive director, and this week, she embarks on a new adventure: retirement.

Kenney has led the Island’s Girls, Inc. branch since 2005, taking the helm of the then-troubled organization after an award-studded 25-year career at the University at California, Berkeley that included 15 years as the school’s dean of students. The Alameda resident’s work at the nonprofit has drawn acclaim too, both locally and nationally.

The organization’s director of program services, Christine Chilcott, is replacing Kenney as interim executive director for the rest of the school year. Before joining Girls Inc. in 2011, Chilcott, who holds a master’s degree in education, has worked for the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley, the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, and the West Contra Costa Unified School District.

Girls Inc. is hosting a meet and greet with Chilcott from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. January 15 at Girls Inc., which is at 1724 Santa Clara Avenue.

Girls, Inc. provides after-school programs for elementary, middle and high school-age girls that build skills ranging from academics to health and self-esteem and relationship building. It also provides licensed childcare services for both boys and girls at seven Alameda elementary schools.

Kenney was selected to lead the Island’s Girls Inc. branch to fill the nonprofit’s need for someone who possessed “extensive management experience and proven leadership,” according to its business plan for 2011-2015. When Kenney was hired, the organization was running a deficit – a situation she turned around in just one year, the plan says.

“Karen has the proven ability to understand and respond to change and risk. She is optimistic, proactive, and able to negotiate in difficult situations yielding successful results,” says the plan, which credits her with having build effective partnerships with the school district and Alameda Boys & Girls Club.

It also credits her with building the organization’s infrastructure and a culture of trust.

Kenney said she’s most proud of the organization’s growth – and its leadership in developing and piloting new programs for the national Girls Inc. organization.

Programs piloted by the local Girls Inc. branch include Exploring Entrepreneurial Experiences, which teaches middle and high school girls how to start and manage a business; Eureka!, a science, technology, engineering and math program; and Girls enCourage, an outdoor leadership program that builds girls’ adventure sports and outdoor safety skills.

This year, the organization’s programs served nearly 400 girls, a 37 percent increase from 2011.

Kenney also credited the organization’s board with making “bold public policy decisions,” specifically its 2009 vote to enroll any student that identifies as female.

“We’re the most diverse Girls, Inc. in the country,” Kenney said.

Kenney herself has been recognized for her leadership, earning awards from the national Girls Inc. organization and locally, from the Alameda Boy Scout Council and the local Chamber of Commerce. The city recognized her for her work this past September,

When looking back on her time at Girls, Inc., Kenney said she has no regrets; she hopes to see the organization continue to expand.

“We’re not at full capacity yet, we’re near there, but we would like to expand to serve other girls in Alameda,” Kenney said. “I would love to see us expand into other communities in the Bay Area.”

As for her plans for retirement, the avid walker and hiker envisions adventures that include hiking, kayaking, and potentially renting an RV and traversing cross-country on a birding trip with friends.

Kenney said she’s looking forward to seeing “new leadership with fresh ideas and fresh energy” at Girls Inc. But even as she embarks on a new series of adventures, she said she plans to stay involved.

“Yes, of course!” Kenney said when asked if she plans to stay involved in Girls Inc. “I’m always available.”