A summer camp just for middle school girls

Women's Giving Circle aims to help them cope with life issues


Like many middle-schoolers, Morgan Harrington, now a junior at Mount Hebron High School, suffered through friendship difficulties when she was at Patapsco Middle School. Her close group split apart, and to Harrington, it felt like the end of the world.

Things would have been better if somebody had told her that these sorts of changes are normal, Harrington says now.

"I wish I had known that it's just a stage, and you have to stand strong and be yourself and not let those kind of things bring you down," she said.

Harrington hopes to help other middle-schoolers grapple with social issues and other problems. That is why she took part in a focus group that helped the Women's Giving Circle design a new summer camp specifically for middle school girls.

The camp, called Journey 2006, will debut this summer with a weeklong session at McDaniel College in Westminster. It was designed with the help of middle school and high school students, including Harrington.

"They did a very smart thing," said Marcy Leonard, principal of Atholton High School and a member of Maryland Leadership Workshops, a nonprofit organization that will run the camp. "They brought together focus groups, both high school and middle school students, to hear from the girls themselves."

Establishing a summer camp for middle-schoolers has long been a goal of the Women's Giving Circle, an organization of Howard County women that contributes to causes focused on women and girls.

Jean Moon, a Giving Circle founder who has been involved in making the camp a reality, said the idea was to create an environment that would nurture future leaders. The Giving Circle has been working with Maryland Leadership Workshops to create the specifics of the weeklong experience, relying on input from the girls.

"We didn't want to fund an existing program," Moon said.

Five or six Maryland Leadership Workshops staffers will run the overnight camp, which is scheduled for July 30 to Aug. 5. Activities will include a talent show; workshops on topics such as communication, goal-setting, conflict-resolution and group dynamics; and possibly a confidence-building outdoor adventure.

There also will be athletic activities such as swimming and dancing. And the girls will take part in one-on-one sessions with staffers to help them fine-tune specific goals.

"To say we're excited about this is an understatement," Moon said. "Our dream is that this first group, the pilot group, will regard themselves as founders and they will see that they are actually developing the camp program."

Twenty-five slots are open, and applications have gone out to all middle schools in the county, said Moon. The application also can be found online at the Women's Giving Circle Web site, www.womens givingcircle.org.

To ensure diversity, the county has been divided geographically; within each quadrant, applicants will be accepted on a first-come, first served basis.

The cost of the camp is $450, but money has been budgeted for full and partial scholarships, Moon said.

"We're really thinking of the girls as being the ones who will create the camp," said Beth Singleton, Moon's daughter and the Gifted and Talented resource teacher at Murray Hill Middle School.

She has been asking pupils in her school for advice on everything, including the camp logo, she said. "As the decisions have been made for the camp program, I've just been kind of running things by them, more in an informal way," Singleton said.

Singleton said her daughter, Julia, a pupil at Harper's Choice Middle School, hopes to attend. "She's really into it," Singleton said. "She's been one of the ones who has been very opinionated."

A focus group of about a dozen high school girls, including Harrington, provided insights about middle school life and offered suggestions for the camp.

"Among the things that they talked about was self-confidence, having the comfort level with the decisions that you make and being able to avoid peer pressure in making decisions," said Leonard. "Body image was a lot of it as well."

Leonard said she was "struck by how much they were looking for mentors and role models in their lives."

The decision was made to provide high school mentors and adult mentors, so that the girls at the camp could gain perspective about life in a few years, as well as when they are adults.

The adult mentors will be women who are members of the Giving Circle.

The high school girls were asked if they would like to become mentors to the campers. All said yes.

"We were so touched," said Moon. "That wasn't why we brought them together. We brought them together to hear what their issues were, and secondarily to help us reflect on the camp experience."

"That would kind of make my summer," Harrington said.. "I would love to be a mentor."

An information session about the camp is scheduled for 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Atholton High School in Columbia.

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