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Cowgirl Camp rounds up future leaders

This week I lived democracy in Camp Hill by working with the counselors of Camp Star. Camp Star is a grassroots organization that provides high quality youth programming in east Alabama. This week was Cowgirl Camp, a leadership development camp complete with horses. 

girls in pink and blue shirts stand together for a picture under the shade of a large tree

Over the course of four days, I, along with 17 other counselors and staff members, bonded with 12 girls, ages 8 to 11, from Camp Hill and other local communities. Campers, dressed in electric pink t-shirts, attended from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday to Thursday.

Cowgirl Camp participants created unforgettable experiences in spite of the daily heat index that averaged 100 degrees. In an effort to stay cool and hydrated, we ate 432 popsicles and drank 57 gallons of water over the four camp days.

Food was pretty important, too. A total of 240 meals are served at camp.  We ate 35 pounds of fruit, 208 pizza slices, 108 scrambled eggs, and more.

a girl playfully looks at a horse peeking through a fence

Throughout the camp, I learned many lessons. Three stand out as important for me to remember.

My first lesson: focus on relationships and the rest will follow.

The most treasured idea that operates at the heart of this camp is the commitment to forming relationships. The girls get the opportunity to explore relationships by engaging with the horses. On the first day. the girls met the three horses that live on the farm: feisty Katalina, energetic Sunday, and persistent Red.

By watching the horses’ reaction to campers throughout the week, we were able to see which campers felt confident and which campers felt less confident. Caroline Turochy, Camp Star volunteer and horse trainer, stated, “I can tell how my rider is through Sunday. If Sunday is getting nervous, I know that my rider’s nervous.”

We were able to watch them progress from day to day. “Horse riding is a trust process,” Kayla Wyckoff, a horse walker, said. “By working to build a relationship with the horses, the cowgirls created a bond with me and with each other,” she added.

In addition to helping the girls build self-confidence and trust, we were also able to work through differences. The girls come from different backgrounds. They could choose not to work together because of differences in race, religion, or what school they attend. But when facing a 1,500-pound horse, the girls find their differences are smaller than they might have previously thought. They unite.

On the third day of camp, while Cowgirl Telia was riding, Katalina began to toss her head. “She began to flip out and I was afraid, but I realize she was just was having a moment and I learned to trust her again.”  Trust the relationship, and the rest will follow.

a young woman guides a girl atop a horse around a riding ring

My second important cowgirl lesson was that it isn’t a cowgirl camp! It is a leadership camp that uses horses. 

Cowgirl Camp teaches the campers to be leaders.  “We are not interested in making cowgirls; we want to make leaders. Cowgirls are strong, independent, and confident, all good leadership traits,” said Kathy Gregory, camp volunteer. 

During the camp, the cowgirls were asked to identify strong leadership action verbs and to provide examples of themselves and their peers exemplifying that quality. The words they chose included helpful, loving, encouraging.

My third lesson is about the value of providing opportunities and knowledge that may not otherwise be provided. The programming for the week included not only riding horses, but first aid, values training, crafts, and swimming.

a young woman in a blue shirt fastens the helmet of a girl in a pink shirt in preparation to ride

I saw firsthand how intently the campers wanted to trade their pink shirts for the blue ones worn by older volunteers. My assignment this week was to fit the cowgirls’ helmets. Each day I witnessed the campers put others first, spread love, and gain confidence.

 “When you are a blue shirt, you put forward the best version of yourself,” Turochy said. These girls were able to learn things that put them on a path to becoming leaders who help create safe, clean, and beautiful communities while making Cowgirl Camp 2018 a success.

Check out this video about Cowgirl Camp 2018 created by The Fifty Fund. 

Tags: Camp Hill

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