Girls Inc. blends learning with fun at summer camp in Schenectady

Diana Suits, senior program director at Girls Inc. in Schenectady reacts as Haley, 5, lets go of her tall candy flagpole on her mobile car made with all edible materials in one of the Girls, Inc. classrooms Tuesday, July 12, 2022.

Diana Suits, senior program director at Girls Inc. in Schenectady reacts as Haley, 5, lets go of her tall candy flagpole on her mobile car made with all edible materials in one of the Girls, Inc. classrooms Tuesday, July 12, 2022.

SCHENECTADY – Strong, smart and bold – that’s what Girls Inc. has inspired young women to be for over a century and a half.

Last week, the Capital Region chapter of the nationwide nonprofit began its annual Summer Fun Camp for local girls in kindergarten through 8th grade. The six-week program at the Schenectady and Albany locations, which have been serving the community for over 80 years, offers the opportunity for young girls to participate in various activities geared toward fostering the growth and development of the three key qualities Girls Inc. was built on.

Each week has a theme, the first being “fun with STEM,” that focuses on various science experiments and in what ways STEM is part of our everyday lives. Another week this summer will involve the exploration of food chemistry, where lots of baking and cooking is planned so the campers can learn how different ingredients affect their product. Creativity will be put to the test with the art-themed week, where the girls will not only express their individuality, but also discover the technical and scientific aspects of art. 

These topic-focused activities are in addition to classic summer camp favorites like field trips and swimming.

Ashli Fragomeni, who spent about 13 years at local YMCA locations as well as in New Orleans before becoming the executive director of the Capital Region Girls Inc. locations in 2020, said their summer camp is the only program they offer that requires a fee to attend.

This year, the camp cost is a $70-$90 on a sliding scale based on household income. But Fragomeni is proud of the fact that they are still providing it for a cost lower than what they charged before COVID-19, all while supplying meals to the camp-goers and providing enthralling learning experiences.

During the COVID-19 pandemic the fee was reduced. The camp charged $50 a week in 2021 and in 2020 the camp was offered free of charge.

“We’re still trying to serve our community. Even though [summer camp] is our only fee-for-service program, [we’re] still trying to make sure that childcare and summer camp especially, which can be a huge cost to parents, is affordable,” Fragomeni said.

Girls Inc.’s efforts don’t stop when the summer ends and school is back in session.

Their free after-school care offers another opportunity for young girls to be immersed in a STEM-based curriculum, without burning a hole in their parents’ pockets.

The afterschool program also features pursuits outside of STEM specifically, like leadership and community action, health and nutrition, sports and adventure and computer literacy. 

Many school districts ask Girls Inc. to visit their classrooms because they see how well Girls Inc. creates programs that encourage female empowerment and self-esteem building.

The senior director of programs, Diana Suits, has been a driving force in coordinating the many cultivating experiences brought to Girls Inc.

Suits’s time with the organization began nearly a quarter of a century ago when she was in college. Her best friend at the time had an internship at the facility and encouraged Suits to become a summer camp counselor. So she did.

Suits worked as a counselor for a couple of years until she got her bachelor’s degree in physical education. She then started working part time at Girls Inc. in Schenectady as the Sports and Adventure Program Specialist while simultaneously pursuing her master’s degree.

From that point on Suits stuck around and was eventually promoted to site manager, in which she oversaw the specific programming at the Schenectady location. Suits progressed yet one more step up the ladder, to where she currently holds the position of Director of Programs for both the Schenectady and Albany locations.

Her over 20 years of hard work have not gone unnoticed. Despite joining the Girls Inc. family only a couple years ago, Fragomeni quickly learned of Suit’s undeniable passion for her job.

“She has really seen it all, which is wonderful and fantastic. However, it doesn’t even hold a candle to the way she lights up when she sees a former student,” Fragomeni said.

Arriving at Girls Inc. in the midst of the pandemic, Fragomeni is thankful she has been able to witness Suits’s unwavering dependability.

“With the last few years being as trying as they have been, Diana has really been a light and a testament to the fact that there’s nothing we can’t get through,” Fragomeni said.

The strong bonds formed at Girls Inc. are very telling of the kind of welcoming environment it provides.

 “They [the girls] like the friends that they get to make with one another, friends from different schools that they normally wouldn’t have met unless they were attending,” Suits said.

 Alongside these bonds, Suits believes Girls Inc. stands out from other childcare programs because of the fact that their easily accessible programming is directed specifically to females. It provides young women an accepting environment to face new challenges and openly be themselves.

“This [the Girls Inc. program] is where you come and you’re who you are. You don’t have to be anyone else,” Suits said.

The Eureka program is another way Girls Inc. goes above and beyond when it comes to providing high quality programming to local youth. Interested girls enter the program the summer before eighth grade and attend a traditional summer camp on the UAlbany campus for the month of July. 

After this initiation they will progress through the five-year program with a mentor and be presented with internship opportunities that will help them decide what college and or career path they may be interested in.

“We’re really proud of the fact that we try to provide experiences and opportunities to girls in male-dominated fields, programs, activities, experiences, so on and so forth,” Fragomeni said.

Honoring the past Eureka members is also of significant importance to the staff of Girls Inc.

“We’re working not only internally locally, but internally with our national network to make sure that our alum are highlighted and people know. We have a woman who’s an author that lives in New York City and we want people to know that she came to Girls Inc. in Schenectady,” Fragomeni said.

The organization is thrilled to hear from their past Eureka students in any capacity. Some of the grown girls share that they got accepted to that college or trade school they so badly wanted to go to or that they got an internship. Some young women may also call Girls Inc. from college to just simply say they are crushing it in the classroom and getting outstanding grades.

The benefits of attending a Girls Inc. program are endless.

Fragomeni wants Girls Inc. to become a household name to all parents and guardians in the Capital District. She knows the devoted team of staff that backs their organization can make this happen.

“I’m excited for the future. I’m excited for our team and the way that we’re moving forward and most importantly, I’m excited for our girls,” Fragomeni said.

Fall registration for the free Schenectady and Albany after-school programs begins Sept. 1. Parents can find sign-up forms at The programs start Sept. 12.

Categories: News, Schenectady, Schenectady County


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