Smithfield Herald

Young leaders go to camp

As part of a community-service project, campers plant a garden at Boys and Girls Club in Selma.
As part of a community-service project, campers plant a garden at Boys and Girls Club in Selma.

Summer camp is often about outdoor activities, campfire stories and songs. But for almost 60 girls attending camp last week east of Clayton, the experience offered something more – leadership training.

The weeklong camp, called “Discover the Leader in You!” at Camp Mary Atkinson, aimed to empower girls ages 11-15 to become better leaders.

“If they can do it as sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, imagine what they can do when they’re 30, 40 years old,” said Keli Diewald, membership executive with Girl Scouts.

Throughout the week, the girls enjoyed typical camp activities such as canoeing and arts and crafts that were packed between seminars on first impressions, integrity, women in the media and managing conflict.

Now in its fifth year, the camp is open to girls in the greater Triangle area. It has two hosts – the Coastal Pines Girl Scouts and the Women’s Leadership Council of the United Way of the Greater Triangle.

Forty of the 57 campers attended for free thanks to $65,000 in scholarships raised by the Women’s Leadership Council. Groups supported by the United Way, such as Boys and Girls clubs, nominated girls for the camp.

“We’re looking for the girls who need the opportunity, who need the exposure to something outside of their norm,” said Constance Davis, director of leadership giving for the United Way. “We’re looking for those girls that are exhibiting the characteristics of leadership but definitely need to be nurtured.”

The other 17 girls signed up through Girl Scouts.

The mission “goes very much hand in hand with the Girl Scouts mission statement of building courage, confidence and character to make the world a better place,” Diewald said.

For camper Meghan Cruz, 14, the camp environment taught an immediate lesson. Meghan said she made assumptions about other campers when she met them on the first day. “I saw them differently when I talked to them,” she said. “I changed my mind of how they are.”

Meghan said the camp was teaching her that leaders have confidence, are nice and show respect.

She also liked the all-girl environment. “Girls can feel more confident and express themselves more,” she said.

The leadership training didn’t end when the camp wrapped up after a week. The girls developed “Take Action” plans for service projects in their home communities.

Victoria Daniels, 16, was a camp counselor and a former camper. When she attended, she won an award for her “Take Action” plan to combat bullying. Returning to the camp was exciting because she was able to use her experiences to help motivate and coach this year’s campers.

Victoria, known as “Bo” to her campers, said she was simply “leading them in the right direction, because they’re already on it, just guiding them and just helping them because I’ve been through it before.”

More than anything, Victoria hoped the campers learned to be confident. “That’s the biggest part of being a leader,” she said. “Because if you’re not confident, and you’re trying to lead someone, the people that you’re leading aren’t going to be confident. You’ve got to set the example and set the ropes.”

Zoey Beck, 11, said the camp was teaching her to be her own person while resisting the temptation to make judgments based on first impressions. “You should try to get to know somebody before you criticize them,” she said.

Zoey especially liked the all-girl environment. “You don’t have to worry about boys being in your way or being annoying,” she said.

Christa Lassiter, 12, said her mom sent her to the camp to be around other leaders. And on just the second day of camp, Christa had a clear picture of what she wanted to learn from the experience.

“To know how to make friends and to be a better person and to help people out when they need it and not be afraid to,” she said. “And to be myself.”