A group of Project Inside Out campers participate in an impact session at its Albany camp. The Girl Talk summer camp hosted its first one in Albany this week at Deerfield-Windsor School Lower Campus. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)
ALBANY — Project Inside Out, a week-long day camp established by the organization Girl Talk meant to inspire young girls to come out of their shell and have the confidence to make it through adolescence, came this summer to the city in which Girl Talk got its start.
The camp, which has been hosting sessions in the Atlanta area, brought it’s 11th Project Inside Out to the Deerfield-Windsor School Lower Campus in Albany this week for rising fourth through eighth grade girls. The camp carries on the mission of Girl Talk — allowing high school girls to mentor middle school girls to help them deal with the issues they face during their formative early teenage years by helping them to build self-esteem, develop leadership skills and recognize the value of community service — into a summer camp setting.
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During the week, the more than 60 campers and high school counselors were involved in impact sessions, community service projects and mentorship. The day started off each morning with a dance in the main gathering area, in the same place where girls were given an opportunity to share talents and reflections. There was also a separate room for lunch and various activities.
Le’Aroh Roberts, 11, was one of those campers. A cerebral palsy patient, she wrote and sang a song about herself that she shared with the whole group.
“I’ve learned how to have confidence in myself and help people, and to make friends,” Le’Aroh said. “I came here because my friends would be there for me and I would be friends with other girls.”
Her favorite part of the experience, as of the second day of the camp, was the reflections and talent.
“You get to see people do different things and share what they think,” she said.
Typically shy around new people, Le’Aroh said she was able to come out of her shell and make new friends. After the camp, she said was hoping to be able to communicate with and help others.
“When I was little, I had cerebral palsy. A lot of people helped me,” she said. “I’ve also learned that I like to come to camp. I get a lot out of it.”
Impact sessions took place in the morning and afternoon, and there were four groups broken up by grade that referred to as the “Bumblebee,” “Ladybug,” “Butterfly” and “Heart” groups. There was typically an icebreaker followed by the reading of a real-life story before campers talk about their experiences. The counselors then gave the campers a week-long challenge.
Sarah Nell, a student at Deerfield’s upper campus, is in her first year as a Girl Talk leader. She got involved as a counselor in the camp because the Girl Talk advisor at Deerfield, Debbie Lentz, talked about how the experience would change her perspective.
In just the second day of the camp, Nell began to notice a difference in the campers — many of whom were shy and timid when they came the first day. That’s a feeling she could relate to.
“When I was in middle school, I didn’t have a lot of confidence … we are trying to help them have confidence,” she said. “(We are teaching them that) middle school is not always bad, if you have a positive mind.”
Nell herself thought the experience might be awkward at first, but found out later her campers would have energy if she had energy. Like her campers, she learned something from the experience.
“What I am learning is that you have to come in with open ears,” she said. “Some of them have different backgrounds … some might not be the wealthiest, but they are all coming into the classroom to learn the same thing.
“It is a really good atmosphere. At the beginning I thought I wouldn’t like it, but I liked it.”
Julie Harrod, a volunteer at the camp and one of the camp’s mothers, was encouraged by Lentz to come in and help.
“My daughter is 9, about to be 10,” she said. “We need to prepare her (for what middle school would be like).”
Like Nell, Harrod said she saw the campers come out of their shell — including her daughter.
“She has confidence,” Harrod said. “She looks forward to coming every day.
“I have had to deal with several things; I work at her school. I see things and I hear things. It’s important to know how to deal with this.”
At first, Harrod said getting the girls to smile and open up was a bit of challenge to start with, but the campers — as well as those helping to coordinate the camp — soon began to have a good time.
“I was nervous to start,” she said. “I’m not nervous now. If they are not getting anything out of it, then I am.”
Some of the camp’s community service projects included painting tiles with llamas on them for Kathy Devaul of Terra Bulah Llama in Leesburg to take with her to the llama show set for October at the Georgia National Fair in Perry, while also getting a chance to interact with a few llamas, and putting together care packages for Mission:Change to distribute to those in need.
The camp ended Friday afternoon with a parent and program reception at the school.
Haley Kilpatrick Dozier, who founded Girl Talk in 2002 while a high school sophomore at Deerfield, was in Albany to help oversee this week’s camp, which was the first Project Inside Out to take place outside of metro Atlanta.
During the visit to her hometown, Dozier said the camp in Albany has been embraced differently — both by the community as well as the campers.
“It has been completely different,” she said. “It might take us months to get sponsors in Atlanta. Here, they jumped on board … A camp for middle school girls is not an easy sell. (They have to) open their mind that this will be a journey.
“These are a girl’s most formative years. There has been a difference of tone (from the Atlanta camps) … (in Albany) we have seen the biggest change in perspective (from the campers). Usually it is Wednesday before that happens.”
One of the goals of the camp is to help the girls be able to find friendships in unlikely places.
“We challenge them (to find friendship),” Dozier said. “(The idea is to transform) from a caterpillar to a butterfly. They have pre-conceived notions of middle school. We tell them to allow yourself to embrace this and evolve into a butterfly. Hopefully they will carry this after camp.”
Dozier said she is optimistic there will be many more camps to come in Albany and Southwest Georgia.
“Some are driving 45-60 miles to come to this camp,” the Girl Talk founder said. “This shows the need to have multiple camps in the area over the summer.
“There is genuine excitement here. You don’t see it in Atlanta.”