Molly DeWitt is the Program Director at Pyoca Camp & Retreat Center.
This week I attended the first ever Women in Camp Summit. It is hard to describe the instant sense of ease that I had when I arrived. There are few places one can go where the people there just get you. Not to mention, where you feel comfortable almost instantly. It was a place where I knew that I was seen.
This conference was dreamt up in less than a year by leading camp professionals across North America. Over 100 women from 27 states and 4 Canadian provinces gathered around the theme of Visibility. Voices. Vision.
We heard the history (#herstory) of female camp professionals from the first female CEO of the American Camp Association, Peg Smith, attended workshops, networked, and engaged in Mentor Chats with leading women in the camp industry. We laughed, cried, bonded, and learned from one another, gaining new friends and colleagues.
This week I felt validated in my call, my voice, and my presence. In a sense, I found church in a generally secular space. I learned a lot about running a camp, from mental health care, programming, staff training, being a supervisor, etc. All things one generally learns at a professional development conference.
I grew as a leader, but most importantly, I found women who understood how important it is for girls to find their voice in a world that often silences them. I found my camp #sheroes.
In recent years I have become aware of what a blessing it was that I was able to grow up with so many amazing female leaders in my life. Throughout my time in seminary, I found out that I was the odd one out because I had had four different female pastors in my church when I was growing up. At the time, all served in associate pastor positions where I was able to see the image of God reflected in the pulpit through women just like me. Many of my female peers in seminary did not have the opportunity to see themselves reflected in church leadership as young girls.
I was also blessed to have strong, independent women in my family who believed that camp would be a good influence on my sister and I. As a camper, I looked up to fierce young adult women who were my counselors. They modeled a wide range of femininity at camp. There was no expectation to be made up everyday. You were encouraged to get dirty, and most importantly, young girls were encouraged to speak their minds.
In many areas of my life, just ask my family, I have not been shy to speak my mind. I attribute this to the strong women who have had a part in raising me: my fierce grandmas, my compassionate mom, and my extremely hard working and smart sister.
Yet, in many areas of my life this has been deemed an unattractive quality. I have been in a number of situations (even in the Church) where my age or gender has made me question whether I should even be in the room, leading me to stay silent. In instances where I have spoken out, I could feel my statements being questioned, even if I received smiles and nods from the room. I have no doubt that many women can relate.
I remind myself that my voice has every right to be heard as someone else’s, but I have to wonder for the girls and young women who didn’t/don’t have fierce female leaders around them, who is telling them that their voice in the Church and the world matters? Who is telling them to keep speaking out? Because for many of them, their health and safety depends upon it.
At Pyoca, our mission is that ALL are welcome in God’s love to explore, grow, rest, and play. I truly hope that all are able to do so, but a large part of me also hopes that girls and women especially know that camp is a space where they can explore who they are outside of the norms and pressures imposed upon them by society. They can grow into whoever God is calling them to be and find rest from the weary world that still tends to silence them. I hope they can play and find adventure that redefines what girls are capable of, because girls CAN lift canoes and climb the high ropes course, too.
For any women or girls who may question it, YOU MATTER. You matter because God loves you, created you, and gave you a voice and a calling. You are worth being seen, heard, and believed.
*Many thanks to CampBrain for sending me to this Summit. It would have been impossible without your support.