Rock Camp for Girls OKC 2017
One of the most exciting weeks of the summer is upon us, the Rock Camp for Girls Oklahoma City. I got to experience the amazing energy of this camp both last year and this year, getting to come in and spend some time and just check it all out as I interview people. My daughter, Starla, has also gotten to be a camper there the last two years. It’s something she looks forward to in anticipation all year long, and comes home from every day completely exhilarated from the experience. There’s something almost electric in the air during the camp, you can feel the energy of all of these women and girls as they learn so many valuable life lessons and skills, along with the musical instruction. It’s unlike anything I have ever seen before.
This is the 3rd year for the camp, which was brought to life by our own Queen of Oklahoma, Carter Sampson. Sampson was actually able to attend the original Rock Camp for Girls in Portland and volunteer there, as well as the chapter in California, before wanting to create a chapter here in Oklahoma. It’s because of her hard work and dedication that we have this impressive opportunity for our young women here in Oklahoma City. Through Sampson’s fundraising efforts, and those who have since pitched in to help raise money for her dream project, they are also able to provide scholarships to girls who may not be able to afford the tuition, making sure that it’s available to anyone and everyone who has an interest in it.
This year there were 54 campers, ages 8 to 16, which are split into the “Flats” which are the younger girls and the “Sharps” which are the older girls. They arrive at camp Monday morning and find out which instrument they are assigned to, which includes keys, guitar, bass, drums and vocals. They also form their bands on the first day, and are given the freedom to choose who they want in their band. This process gives the campers a chance to mingle and talk to one another in an attempt to find like-minded girls who want the same things in a band. The whole process fosters social skills, collaboration, and working together as a team among other things. During the week the campers work together as bands to come up with a band name and write a song that they get to perform before an audience at two different times on the Saturday following camp.
During the week they take classes with their particular instrument as well as have band practice where they write their original song and learn how to work together. The patience these volunteers have with these girls as they teach them chords, rhythm and melody is amazing. Some of these girls have never picked up an instrument before in their lives, but in a week’s time they are able to play a simple song, which builds their confidence in their abilities and themselves. These added “bonus” lessons are just one reason that this camp is about so much more than just music and learning how to form a band.
“It’s more than just music. It’s really honestly teaching girls how to treat other girls, who grow up to be women who know how to treat other women,” explained volunteer Denise Cullin. “I didn’t have anything like this when I was growing up, and I fumbly bumbly had to figure out how to be, how to treat other women. It hasn’t always been a positive experience for me. I think for me the innate feeling that I have is that I want to give that to them, my 47 years worth of whatever that is, my grown up knowledge. I wanted to be able to water it down enough so that it’s palatable, and then give that to them. If we can raise a generation of women who do not have to go through that snarky, tearing down of others, the competitiveness... girls are just encouraged to compare and compete. I think that ‘mean girl’ stuff has been accepted as ‘well that’s just how girls are’. I think it’s about teaching girls that A: it’s not true and B: it’s not acceptable. If we can fast forward them over that hump and just let them be their awesome little selves and then go into the world, I think it will change the world, I really do.”
You’ll hear that sentiment repeated over and over with the women who volunteer at the camp. The week is not only filled with workshops and activities that help the girls learn about music and being in a band, including “How to be your own roadie” and creating their own band logos and T-shirts, but it’s also filled with workshops and activities that help give them the tools to navigate the world as a female, including workshops on Body Positivity, Self Defense classes, and learning how they can help women all around the world. They even have yoga classes and offer “Drama Trauma” personnel on hand to help girls find better ways to handle conflict.
“Our name is Rock and Roll Camp for Girls Oklahoma City but that’s not just what it is, it’s not about bringing girls in here and just letting them shred a guitar. It’s about empowering them and teaching them about women from around the world, giving them self defense lessons, talking to them about bullying and how to combat bullying,” said volunteer Becky Black. “The rock and roll part of it is great and that makes it fun but we’re really about building young women up and making them a stronger person.”
In fact Thursday morning when I was at the camp, Black and another volunteer, Amy Batie, who helps run an organization called Rise Up, gave a workshop about girls around the world that gave me goosebumps. The Rise Up organization helps with educational needs in places like Ethiopia. Batie showed a video which showed how one girl can make a difference in these lives and called to the campers to 'rise up', and that they could make a difference if they stood up and jumped in. Black also talked about the young Pakistan woman Malala Yousafzai who has been standing up for education in her country and around the world for the last six years, and was actually shot in the head by the Taliban in the process. Her book, “I am Malala” is out and available to learn more about her story. This workshop helped make the campers aware that life for women around the world isn’t as comfortable as it is for us here in the United States, but that there are things we can do to stand up against the things that are wrong and help women in other countries.
“One thing we are focusing on this year is giving back. We as a camp, we started with nothing and here we are in our third year and we have all this amazing gear and costumes and button makers, we have all these things- we’re really fortunate - and so from here on out we’re going to give back to our community or to the world, so we’re doing both on this one. We have a local organization called Rise Up and they are an education based organization and we are going to help them build a bathroom in a school in Konso, Ethiopia,” explained Sampson. “There’s a lot of statistics about girls all over the world, in rural parts of Africa, they have to drop out of schools when they start their periods because there are no bathrooms at the school. It’s just in the open air where everyone is watching you, so that’s when their education stops. It’s just a small thing, a bathroom, but it’s one thing we can do to try to help our sisters in a different part of the world.”
The girls in the camp, and even the women who volunteer to make it happen, are getting to experience so many different things in such a short period of time. The camp lasts one full week, and ends with two showcases on Saturday where the bands get to perform their original songs on stage in front of an audience. Last year, just getting to watch the girls transform and shine on stage was one of the most incredible experiences I have had. You could see how the whole week of encouragement and support helped these girls blossom and be truly comfortable with who they were and what they were doing, and that’s really what it’s all about.
“We are a music camp and that’s a big part of it and a lot of our girls come to us Monday morning and have never picked up the instrument that they are about to play for a week. They form bands and they write a song together and it’s amazing what they can accomplish in one weeks time,” said Sampson. “The music is a big part of it but we are really about empowering these girls to be whatever they want to be, and to be themselves more importantly. We celebrate individuality here. We encourage them to truly be themselves. I feel like this is one of the few places that you can do that, especially as a young girl. We empower them to be good to each other and take care of one another, we need more kindness in the world.”
The walls are filled with pictures and posters of women musicians throughout the years, in all genres. Every day at lunch, local artists come in and perform for the campers as well.
“Monday we had a local band play called LCG and the X and they just rock and rolled, 4 piece all female band. We had Kierston White come and play today,” said Sampson. “We have amazing volunteers here and a lot of them are musicians so yesterday we did an open mic volunteer showcase. Tomorrow we have an electronic band, so we try to get the girls to experience all kinds of music, not just one kind.”
The girls themselves had a lot to say about what they love about being a part of camp as well. Many of the campers have been a part of the camp for more than one year.
“I love how everyone accepts you for who you are, and people don’t judge you for what you do and all that,” said camper Jaedn Moddrell, age 14. “This year I’m playing guitar, last year I did drums. I like both, I play both. I love music. We’ve been practicing a lot, and hanging out with all of our friends here and doing activities and stuff like that. I really like lunch, because of the bands that play.”
This was definitely some of the same things many of the other campers shared with me as well.
“I love all the positive energy here and the fact that it’s not just about learning an instrument, that there’s so many other things to do here like empower girls and teach them new things that aren’t music related,” said camper Bella Cornell, age 16. “I think my favorite one is the body positivity workshop. My first year I was bassist, and the other two I’ve been guitar. I really like guitar better. There’s so much positive energy here and everyone is really kind to each other and it’s a place where it’s completely safe to be yourself and everyone is really uplifting and supportive of who you are.”
“My favorite part is probably just being here period,” said another camper named Bella, an 8 year old first year camper learning to play bass with her band the Pop Rockers. “We’ve done shirts, we’ve done bullying workshop, we’ve done music workshop. It’s really fun, you meet new friends, you learn how to play new instruments. It’s just really fun.”
The girls were happy to jump in and talk about what they loved about the camp, no doubt from getting the chance all week to find their voice and being encouraged to speak up and be proud of what you have to say.
"I like the instrument practices because you get to learn to play new songs on it, " said second year camper Starla, who is 10 years old (and also my daughter). "It teaches you confidence and in the workshops you get to go up on stage and work with the teachers which makes you more confident. I wish it lasted all year long."
It’s up in the air as to who gets more enjoyment and fulfillment out of the week; the campers or the volunteers.
“Volunteering will change your life, it really is unlike anything. I always tell people that when I was a kid I would go to church camp and I would come home and I would be fired up for Jesus, I leave this camp every week and I feel like I can do anything,” said Black. “I feel like I am such an empowered female, the world is mine and I hope that’s what these girls leave with. It’s all about the energy. You come in the building and it’s captivating and it’s contagious.”
There seemed to be a theme in the reasons given for volunteering as well, they all seem to share a love for Sampson.
“Carter’s one of my best friends and was living with me at the time , and we were kind of sharing our dreams of things we wanted to do and this was one of hers. I told her then, I’ll help you facilitate it in any way that I can,” said Cullin. “If you are a woman and you can make coffee, or pick up after kids then you qualify as a volunteer. If you are a musician -we’re not training them to go to Juilliard and get a full scholarship -if you know basic chords, you can share that. You can be a morning volunteer, or an afternoon volunteer, or you can volunteer to teach a workshop, like today we are doing band logos and band shirts so if somebody is crafty and can herd cats for an hour, then you qualify.”
“The reason that I am involved is because the first time I ever played an open mic, a little over 16 years ago, Carter was in the audience,” said volunteer Elecktra Stanislava. “Me and my brother got up and we thought that we were horrible and we were going to leave because we were embarrassed, and she said 'I really liked your stuff, come sit with me'. So I would still not be playing live music if it wasn’t for Carter, so I’m just kind of paying it forward.”
It sounds like Sampson has always had a hear to encourage and help people find their confidence, so it's no wonder she was drawn to the idea of this camp.
“This is my third year to do this, I started doing this because Carter and I have been friends for over 20 years and she did this camp in L.A. and called me from an R.V. ride from L.A. to Oklahoma and said I want to bring this to Oklahoma City and I said ok, not realizing how much work it would be,” said Black. “Camp truly wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for Carter, the work that she puts in it behind the scenes, there’s a ton of it.”
For as loud and crazy as this camp can get at times, it really is a well oiled and highly organized machine. The way these women pull together to get it all done is beyond impressive to me. They come in every single day with such enthusiasm and excitement, full of energy and encouragement, and make the day something incredible for these girls. There’s a lot of silliness and shenanigans going on, but at the heart of it there’s just a lot of love. The campers walk away with a renewed sense of confidence after a week of being built up, and after being given the tools to handle some of life’s stressful moments.
One of the biggest fundraisers of the year is the end of camp showcases, and you can come help support this phenomenal camp and the girls who worked long and hard this week to put it all together.
“We have two camper showcases this Saturday, July 15. We have a 1 p.m. and a 3 p.m. show at the Freede Little Theater inside the Civic Center Music Hall, which is awesome,” said Sampson. “We did our first showcase there and it was really fun, we still have tickets for sell.”
You can purchase tickets for the showcases at Amplifan.com, or by clicking here. You can also get onto the website at rcgokc.org, as well as find them on Facebook and Instagram, for more information about the camp. There are many ways you can get involved, from making a donation, to attending a fundraiser, to volunteering your time. The camp just continues to grow and grow in the short time it has been here in Oklahoma City as well.
“We actually had to cut off applications really quickly, we were flooded with them. We had to turn down about 35 girls. It sucks, we don’t want to turn anyone down, so we’re looking to grow,” said Sampson. “I think if we do grow it will be into two weeks, two separate sessions.”
It takes a lot of work to pull off this kind of endeavor, and we are lucky that we have such strong and determined women in this area that care enough to make sure it happens for our young ladies of Oklahoma City.