On March 20, I was honored to chair the Girls Inc. New York luncheon. At this event, we recognized an extraordinary group of female leaders and celebrated the rewarding work of helping at-risk girls. We also raised nearly $1.2 million for a cause that’s close to my heart.

As the first woman in my family to get a university degree, I feel a strong personal connection to these young women. Each of our girls has an inspiring story of overcoming adversity. We were fortunate to hear from some of these extraordinary ladies during our luncheon program. “Thanks to Girls Inc., I no longer feel silent or insignificant. I will not be overlooked or invisible,” said Desireé McHellon, a national scholar from Girls Inc. of Central Alabama.

Each year, Girls Inc. helps more than 136,000 girls in 325 cities in the United States and Canada. Many of these young women face difficult odds. The majority come from low income homes or families headed by single parent households, often led by women.

The professionals who lead Girls Inc. are passionate about helping girls on their journey through adolescence and into adulthood. They understand the many challenges girls face in our society. Their programs are based on research and designed specifically to build character and confidence. Through mentoring, workshops focused on nutrition, health and fitness; money management and jobs skills training, they help girls reach their full potential.

Girls Inc. has been helping generations of young women since it was founded during the Industrial Revolution in New England. Those who complete the program often go on to lead productive lives.

This success is truly a team effort, although most of the credit should go to the girls themselves. The girls I’ve met are truly committed to becoming the next generation of strong, smart and bold female leaders. They demonstrate the meaning of courage and the power of the human spirit.

I’m proud to work for a company that is a longtime partner of Girls Inc. and is deeply committed to women’s empowerment. Coca-Cola supports women globally through its 5by20 program. Through this program, we’re enabling the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs by the year 2020. Our chairman, Muhtar Kent, calls this the “Women’s Century.” He says empowering women is one of the best ways to fight poverty and uplift society.

That’s a huge and ambitious commitment, and it’s gratifying to play a small part of it by leading Coca-Cola’s support of Girls Inc.

Sonya Soutus is SVP of Public Affairs & Communications at Coca-Cola North America.