Toccora Johnson discusses her decade-long journey with Girls’ Inc. of Chattanooga, her childhood influences, and her vision for the future as Girls Inc. of Chattanooga celebrates its 60th anniversary.
Toccora Johnson, CEO of Girls Inc. of Chattanooga, spoke with us about what makes her tick and the future of the organization she now leads.
The seeds of my professional journey were planted at the young age of six. I clearly recall my first day of kindergarten when I was matter-of-factly told the statistical future of someone from my neighborhood. I thought: I didn’t get to pick where I was born or where I lived, so why should I accept these statistics? I decided I would defy the odds. Later I began to see myself as the protector of those less fortunate, and I knew I would dedicate my life to helping others.
I worked hard to defeat those statistical stereotypes while at the same time following my passion. After graduating high school, I went on to earn my collegiate and graduate school degrees, including an MPH (Master of Public Health). I landed my first post-graduate school job at the Tennessee State Department. I quickly learned, however, that sitting behind a desk all day was not for me. I preferred working in the field and helping people in person.
While exploring non-profits, I learned about Girls Inc. of Chattanooga. Their mission to “inspire and prepare girls to be strong, smart and bold leaders within their families, their community and society” really resonated with me. Girls Inc. hired me in 2010 as the Director of Elementary Age Programs (grades K-5, ages 6-11). I later was promoted to Senior Director of Program Operations (grades K-12, all ages). Last year I was asked to act as interim CEO, and this year I am proud to say that I was appointed CEO.
I am a mosaic of influences from my faith and family. I attribute my success to a combination of these influences, which underscores my belief in continual character development.
My faith and family have guided me in making good decisions while providing me strength along the way. I should add that Girls, Inc. is a non-religious organization and that my beliefs are personal to me. Being raised by a supportive and hardworking family, I learned that hard work, perseverance, and dedication are rewarded – even if this meant sacrificing summers with my friends to take classes so I could excel. My parents also taught me to remain humble, while not allowing anyone to dim my light. I have held this trait close to my heart. I don’t judge those with opinions different from mine. Rather, I believe everyone has their own journey.
In one word – inclusion. I envision an inclusive Girls Inc. experience that extends to families, donors, board members, and volunteers. To achieve this vision, we need to be intentional and impactful in our priorities. Those short-term priorities include: offering programming to more schools, expanding our footprint, and enhancing our family support.
By programming I am referencing all we do in partnership with schools and communities. That is, we focus on the development of the whole girl. She learns to value herself, take risks, and discover and develop her inner strengths. The combination of long-lasting mentoring relationships, a pro-girl environment, and research-based programming equips girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers, and to grow up healthy, educated, and independent.
Being intentional and impactful means that we offer tailored programs to more schools and communities. My team will meet with a school to evaluate their needs and then develop appropriate programming.
Expanding our footprint to the surrounding municipalities, is also intentional and impactful. This last year of unprecedented challenges has taught us that Girls Inc. is needed more than ever. We will expand our support to those who need it most.
Finally, we are exploring how to achieve and enhance family offerings through a dedicated resource. How do we extend the Girls Inc. Experience to families? In the works are a Parent Advisory Committee and an Advocacy Committee.
We stayed open - exemplifying our resilience. It took a lot of creativity and long hours to develop new programming, while simultaneously navigating unchartered waters. Thanks to our Program, Development and Finance teams, Board and Champions, we not only survived, but we also thrived with forward-looking programs. We were able to take those challenges and turn them into opportunities.
For 60 years, Girls Inc. has inspired girls to be strong, smart, and bold, providing them with life-changing experiences and solutions to the issues girls face.
We have dedicated the entire year to celebrating this monumental anniversary, which is February 15. Events will be themed around Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present and Elevating the Future, including our 17th Annual Unbought and Unbossed (Virtual) Luncheon on March 24th and our 60th Anniversary Soiree in June.