VCU volunteers look to empower young girls through music

Carliss Hardy

Contributing writer

With help from VCU volunteers, more young girls may be rocking out in Richmond soon.

VCU students and alumni are working to expand the popular “Girls Rock Camp” program to Richmond. They want Richmond to host a two-week summer camp where girls ages eight to 18 would learn to play guitars, drums and other instruments, write songs and perform in their own rock band.

“I got inspired to work on this project when I watched a documentary that was made about a similar camp in Portland, Ore. It was a powerful and fun film and made me want to be a part of bringing a program to Richmond,” Constance Sisk, a cello player and music teacher, said.

The first Rock ’n’ Roll Camp for Girls was held in Portland in 2001. There are now about 10 camps, from Washington, D.C., to Oakland, Calif. The idea has even spread internationally, with camps in London and Sweden.

The concept got a boost from the 2008 documentary “Girls Rock!”  The film follows four girls from the Portland camp as they learn how to play and write music and form a band. Along the way, they also learn self-confidence and other life lessons.

Critics generally praised the movie. The website DVD Talk called it “a film not just to be commended and enjoyed, but a remarkable camp that should be a requirement for every teen girl out there in dire need of empowerment and focus.”

Musicians in Richmond want to address that need by organizing a Girls Rock Camp for the coming summer. They say it will take a lot of work.

“GRC – RVA is going to require instruments, instructors, volunteers, food, office supplies, a location, etc. Community involvement can certainly help this all come together,” Josette Matoto, a VCU graduate and local musician, said .

“It’s imperative that people know they do not have to be able to play an instrument in order to help out.”

Erin Kemmerer, a VCU philosophy and women’s studies major, said the first step to establishing the camp is to form a nonprofit organization.

“The process to becoming a nonprofit is lengthy … it is also the most challenging part of the project,” Kemmerer said.

Once Girls Rock Camp – Richmond attains official nonprofit status, the group will be able to accept tax-deductible donations and seek grants and other funding. In addition, it will be easier to provide scholarships to girls who could not afford to attend the camp otherwise, according to Kemmerer and Matoto.

To jump-start the project, supporters are using the very thing that makes the camps so successful: music.

Organizers of Girls Rock Camp – Richmond are holding benefit shows to raise money and awareness of the program.

“We’re trying to explore different types of music in our shows. All music is encouraged. We would like to possibly combine art and music together in our shows,” Kemmerer said.

The first benefit show will be a singer/songwriter night on Friday, Dec. 10, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Ellwood’s Coffee in Carytown.

The show will feature local performers, including Kemmerer, Shannon Keeter and Maria Medas (aka Trouble!). It will be free and open to the public.

Musicians interested in playing in a benefit concert for the camp are encouraged to sign up on the Facebook page, Girls Rock Camp RVA!

Matoto said her goal for the camp is to see the young musicians gain confidence:

“I want to see young girls rocking out – playing music like no one is watching and taking that mindset with them even after the camp session is over. Everyone deserves to be heard.”

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