Fifty girls in Grade 8 at schools in Norfolk and Haldimand counties spent three days at Camp Trillium in Waterford earlier this month.
In its 16th year, the GIRLS Power Camp provides a fun and interactive learning experience for the girls as they prepare to enter the world of high school.
An acronym for growth, independence, leadership, respect and self-esteem, the camp is a co-ordinated effort by Norfolk County, Haldimand and Norfolk Women’s Services, and Haldimand-Norfolk REACH (Resource Education and Counselling Help).
“Some have never done high ropes, a sleepover or a camp experience,” said Jen Lados, a community educator and counsellor for Haldimand and Norfolk Women’s Services. “They leave here empowered, with heightened self-awareness, and have links to community resources.”
“We may be the leads here, but the girls are mentored by some young facilitators,” notes Jayne Aldridge, Norfolk recreation programmer. “Some came to camp when they were in Grade 8, and wanted to give back by returning as facilitators.”
Ranging in age from 16 to 26, the facilitators include high school seniors, college or university students, and young women from the community who interact with the girls throughout the weekend in activities that include yoga and self-defence.
“I am really worried about the future of girls, especially in high school,” says facilitator Helena Maletta. “A lot of girls compete against each other, and I feel like this (camp) builds a sisterhood between a bunch of girls. It starts a connection before they even get to high school.”
Maletta, who is 16 and attends Holy Trinity Catholic High School in Simcoe, said the girls get to learn about relationships, and what an unhealthy one looks like.
“When I was younger, I only saw relationships from media, such as in films, and it really isn’t an accurate perception of what a healthy relationship needs,” Maletta said. “It was really helpful to learn here.”
The girls spent Dec. 6 with activities about healthy relationships and active living.
On Dec. 7, Marilyn Walsh of Women’s Way in Toronto led self-defence sessions. An instructor since 1977, Walsh has travelled the country and developed programs for women, including those with vision or hearing impairments, or mobility issues.
“We talk about different ways that people try to take control over them,” Walsh said. “Whether it’s getting away, physically fighting back or verbally defending themselves, they learn very simple techniques that will be effective at that particular moment.”
High ropes and yoga were also activities on Saturday, along with a health nurse who came in to answer questions from an anonymous question box. The girls also wrote letters to themselves, and ended the day with a dance party.
On Dec. 8, Grade 9 expectations and personal strength were topics, which Lados said stress the importance of women supporting each other, and demonstrate that, working together, they can accomplish anything.
Crystine Clark of Waterford is a 24 year-old restaurant manager, who returned as a facilitator.
“I felt really empowered when I was in Grade 8, and I just can’t stay away,” Clark said.
“If I am going to spend a weekend volunteering, why not do it in a place that affects 50 girls? I think it’s amazing to learn self-defence because you are always at risk. It’s good life skills, not just for Grade 8s.”