PEABODY — She was humbled to be honored by Eastern Bank Thursday, but Girls Incorporated Executive Director Deb Ansourlian said her greatest honor is “to be part of the journey of girls’ lives.”
In honoring Ansourlian with Eastern Bank’s Community Advocacy Award, Chairman and CEO Robert F. Rivers said Eastern has a legacy of financially supporting initiatives aimed at ending domestic violence, championing pay equity, and workforce development.
He praised Girls Inc.’s success in equipping girls with the tools necessary to succeed in college, with attendance rates far exceeding the 62 percent national college attendance average for women.
A Lynn resident, Ansourlian has overseen Girls Inc. for more than seven years out of the program’s big yellow building on High Street in Lynn. Working under the Girls Inc. motto, “smart, strong and bold,” she helped pioneer Girls Inc.’s literacy program.
“To be recognized by Eastern Bank which is so committed to community advocacy means a great deal to me. Honestly, it’s overwhelming,” she said.
Ansourlian said her commitment to helping girls become leaders and overcome peer pressure, school challenges and negative body images is personal. She was 11 years old when a Camp Fire leader leaned over while Ansourlian was working with other girls on a project and told her, “Aren’t you bossy.”
“I shrunk. I collapsed into myself. Luckily, I had a mother who loved me and who was strong,” she said.
Ansourlian was executive director of the Hattie B. Cooper Community Center in Roxbury before coming to Girls Inc., and she holds a master’s degree in business administration from Simmons College Graduate School of Management.
“I never want girls to lose that feeling that they are ‘all that and a bag of chips.’ It’s because of them I do the work,” she said.
The crowd of more than 100 that applauded Ansourlian Thursday included fellow Lynn social service agency executives, including Lynn Economic Opportunity CEO Birgitta Damon.
“Deb does fantastic work with Girls Inc. She is able to provide a learning environment that is stable and allows girls to succeed,” Damon said.
Lynn YMCA Executive Director Audrey Jimenez said Ansourlian works closely with heads of other Lynn social service agencies.
“What Deb represents is something every agency in the city respects: Empowering girls, meeting girls where they are and preparing them for a better life,” Jimenez said.
Before honoring Ansourlian, Rivers recognized Victoria Aboagye-Adinkra, who attended Girls Inc. as a middle schooler and drew inspiration from its programs that led her to graduate with honors from Tufts University and become a youth health specialist.
“I am a testament to the everlasting impact this organization has,” she said.
Ansourlian is one of nine women from different parts of Massachusetts honored by Eastern Bank as community advocates in 2018.