Camp gives young women a chance to LEAD

Special to Western News

Ashley Frost wished when she was younger the Girls Leadership, Education and Development (LEAD) camp had been around to help her open up because she was a shy child.

Frost, 22, was a counsellor in the Girls LEAD camp this past summer and saw how the environment fostered confidence in the girls. “They grow in realizing that they can do anything they really want to, if they set their minds to it.”

Offered through Brescia University College since 2008, Girls LEAD is designed to teach girls leadership skills using a three-tier curriculum based on self-discovery, connecting with others and building community and making change. Leadership skills such as critical thinking and communication are developed through a range of activities including workbooks and creative projects such as making collages, said Marianne Simm, the registrar and director of student affairs.

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“There’s incredible energy in the camp. They really do engage in the material in a very positive manner,” Simm said.

The camp nurtures independence, and the curriculum helps girls understand who they are as individuals and what they are passionate about. They leave wanting to make a difference and take on the world, said Samantha Hayes, the program coordinator of the camp.

Girls LEAD is geared toward three different age ranges: Junior for girls entering Grades 3 and 4; Intermediate for girls entering Grade 5 and 6; and Seniors for girls entering Grades 7 and 8. Each age range follows the three tenents of the program, but activities are geared toward each age range.

Each camp runs for a two-week period with a maximum of 28 girls participating. The counsellors in charge of facilitating the camp are Brescia students. Girls LEAD runs June to August with the days structured around inside and outside activities, Hayes said

Lunch is provided to the campers and is an opportunity for them to learn about nutrition and cooking skills. Girls LEAD teaches the campers how to cook in the Brescia food labs using recipes created by the college’s chef Tim D’Souza, said Hayes, who added, “they made brown rice and crispy coated chicken fingers. That was popular.”

Two Brescia students developed the food and nutrition curriculum. Each age range follows a specific lesson plan, which features topics like healthy eating and the Canada Food Guide. Simm said, for older girls, it’s an opportunity to discuss issues around body image and self-esteem.

The campers have an hour of physical activity each day and twice a week the girls go swimming at Western’s recreation centre. They also enjoy opportunities to try activities like yoga and the dance fitness program, Zumba, Hayes said.

Giving back to the community is what the camp is about, Hayes said. Girls LEAD partnered with London’s Youth Opportunities Program (YOU) this past year to provide job opportunities for at-risk youth. The girls who come from YOU to the camp work alongside the counsellors for the summer, Hayes said. It gives them the opportunity to learn important job skills, she noted.

Many of the girls return to the camp the following year because of the long-lasting friendships they’ve made. These relationships translate into positive social change in the community.

“I have seen some girls start up a lemonade stand together. We encourage them to go out and make a difference in the community,” Hayes said.

Girls LEAD is a safe space where girls are free to express their thoughts and feelings and support one another. Since the camp started in London, over 800 girls have participated. In 2010, the camp expanded to Barbados. Brescia has active alumnae there who wanted to bring the curriculum to the country.

“It’s very positive for the girls that participate in the camp,” Simm said.

Through her work as a counsellor, Frost has seen Girls LEAD transform girls in the camp. Some campers, who are initially shy, come out of their shell and make friends. “It’s a really good camp for young girls to attend. It can help them realize what their opportunities are in the future.”