In a number of ways, I began my first day at Alternatives for Girls not knowing what to expect. I knew that I was an intern for the non-profit’s Rise N’ Shine camp, a six-week prevention program that aims to help girls ages six through 14 learn and grow in positive ways. I knew that I would help facilitate activities that encouraged the participants to stay excited about school, develop their confidence, and build positive ties to their community. However, I did not have a vision for how all of this would be realized, or my specific role within the program, which left me feeling quite nervous.
This was especially the case because, due to some unforeseen car troubles that kept me from commuting to the first day of the camp, I actually began my internship a day late! This led me to worry that the girls participating in the program might not take to me very well. They had already had a day to bond with each other and the other staff members – had I missed a crucial time to integrate myself? Even just five minutes into the camp, I knew these worries had no grounds. The girls immediately, excitedly responded to my questions about their lives.
My role within the program soon became clear, too. I am one of the camp’s adult supervisors, an intermediary between staff members and “youth leaders,” the teenage counselors of the camp. The youth leaders, who have graduated from the program themselves, run the show, but I monitor them and give them advice when needed. I find that I have already had a lot to offer them in terms of developing “classroom control” and time management skills. I also have been able to provide pointers to them about interacting with children. After having watched me engage several previously sluggish children in an energetic game, one of the youth leaders made the following comment: “I don’t know how you do it.” It was very rewarding to tell her exactly how I had done it -building a base of trust with the kids, injecting some enthusiasm into the situation- and see her replicate my behaviors later on. I see now that I have a lot I can give this program.
I’ve also been focusing on what I can give to the main beneficiaries of the program: the girls. I find that so often, young girls avoid participating in camp activities because they are so worried about their image. They will refrain from being active or trying something new for fear of “messing up.” I have so far spent my time at AFG challenging the participants to join in on a game, or try roller skating, or just generally take an active role in their environment despite their fears. I have experienced success with this. I’ve watched girls exude with pride after gaining a new skill that they originally said they “weren’t good enough” to try, and it is truly so rewarding to see my impact. In accordance with the mission of Alternatives for Girls, I plan to continue seeking out ways that I can support these girls as they grow into strong, responsible young women. That’s my true role.