Girls Rock Charlotte, a July summer camp that aims to amplify confidence and boost self-esteem through the power of rock music and leadership lessons, is giving young girls a positive voice.
While the initiative is not a formal UNC Charlotte program, it draws many of its leaders and volunteers from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and throughout the university. During this week-long journey of discovery, girls and gender diverse youth, ages 10-16, learn to express themselves effectively, and to be allies for themselves and their peers.
“I started Girls Rock Charlotte because of my own daughter, who was so shy,” says Girls Rock Charlotte founder and executive director Kelly Finley. “I had heard about Girls Rock camps before and I found one in Chapel Hill and signed her up. By that Saturday after her journey at a Girls Rock camp, she was transformed. She was so confident and having so much fun. After doing Girls Rock twice at Chapel Hill, I thought, ‘I have got to bring this to Charlotte.’ ”
Finley, UNC Charlotte Women’s & Gender Studies undergraduate advisor and senior lecturer, reached out to friends at UNC Charlotte and in the community about starting Girls Rock Charlotte and found strong support. Shannon Bauerle, another Women’s & Gender Studies faculty member, joined on.
“I teach with Kelly in the WGST department and also have a teen daughter,” Bauerle says. “I was very excited to get my daughter involved and offered to help out in any way needed when the first camp was in the planning stages. Little did I know that what started off as just donating some cookies would quickly evolve to becoming volunteer director and then program director, which I love.”
As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, Girls Rock Charlotte operates with the help of volunteers, including UNC Charlotte students, faculty and alumni. The camp is composed of confidence building workshops, instrument lessons and practice working together as a band. By week’s end, the goal is for campers to perform on a stage with confidence and to take that newly gained confidence with them as they return to their daily lives.
The workshops focus on learning about social justice issues that concern the campers and on giving the attendees practice in dealing with discrimination in a positive way.
“It’s not just the music and it’s not just the workshops,” Finley says. “It’s the method and program overall. We use rock music to teach confidence and increase self-esteem. We do not turn kids into musicians; this is not a music summer camp. We are a leadership and social justice camp. We just use rock music to do it. It’s about the journey that they take—from that first Monday morning when they come to us until Saturday when they are giving the concert. Most of the girls that come to us have never played an instrument before, so to see them grow into a confident performer is amazing.”
UNC Charlotte alumna Chesney Klubert, a Girls Rock Charlotte volunteer, describes her volunteerism with Girls Rock Charlotte as an honor and an inspiration.
“Kelly Finley and Shannon Bauerle were both my professors at UNC Charlotte during the time when they were just starting up the nonprofit organization,” Klubert says. “They both mentioned the volunteer opportunity and after hearing about what Girls Rock stands for and how it helps girls and gender diverse youth find their voices, I knew I had to get involved. I definitely could have used something like Girls Rock Charlotte when I was in my adolescent years. I struggled a lot with shyness and insecurity. I knew I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to make a difference in young girls’ lives.”
During her first year volunteering, Klubert’s role was band manager. Last year, while she dealt with the demands of a new job, she volunteered just at the Saturday showcase. This summer, she has moved up to the volunteer director role as part of the leadership team. She has seen campers find strengths inside themselves of which they may have been unaware.
“Last summer, seeing how much the girls had grown and how courageous they were in putting themselves out there and performing on a stage, some of them doing it for the first time, was so inspiring,” she says. “My primary duties this year consist of holding volunteer orientation sessions and organizing our volunteer base, and I am happy I have also been able to volunteer with the camp this year.”
To sustain the connections and lessons they learn throughout their camps, Girls Rock Charlotte this year added AMPLIFY! Workshops to its offerings. The workshops are two hours long one Saturday each month during the school year and are free to past campers.
“The programming focuses on empowerment workshops that involve building self-esteem, learning how to use the power of their bodies and voices, positive self-promotion in social media, and learning about important feminist movements,” says Bauerle, who developed the programming. “I have seen not only the campers but the volunteers gain so much from Girls Rock, as it is a safe space where they can freely express themselves and explore totally new experiences without fear of judgment.”
Another volunteer and UNC Charlotte alumnus, Robert Iffergan, serves as a band manager and sees how the experience transforms the campers. “The future for young girls is for them to speak out and speak up, and that is what we teach,” Iffergan says. “I know that in GRC there are young girls that are being acknowledged for the bright, intelligent and creative beings that they are, in a way they should always be acknowledged.”
In the band manager role, Iffergan assists in songwriting sessions and instructs new drummers.
“When our girls come in to GRC, they audition on every instrument, and it is definitely my job as a volunteer to excite them and encourage them to want to play drums,” Iffergan says. “Drums can be for anyone.”
By lunch the first day, the young people have tried out the instruments, formed their bands and started their lessons. On Friday comes the dress rehearsal, followed by the public concert on Saturday. This year’s concert is scheduled on Saturday, July 23 at 7 p.m., at McGlohon Theater. More information and tickets are available on the Girls Rock Charlotte website.
“Their practice is important, not for perfection, but to make them feel confident and competent in what they are doing, so they feel like professionals,” Finley says. “It’s a big journey for them. Some will hit this point where they think, ‘I can’t do this. This is really hard, and I’m not going to be good enough.’ This is where the volunteers work with them and tell them that it’s normal to feel that way. It’s O.K. We will let them practice until they get it. They are so proud of themselves for persevering and taking the stage by Saturday.”
The songs that the bands practice throughout the week and perform at the showcase are original and self-governed songs the girls wrote together in their bands.
“What’s so cool about that is, it’s always inspiring and fun and often interesting to hear what they have to say,” Finley says. “They are rarely given the opportunity to say how they want and feel without being silenced.”
Words: Brittany Algiere | Images: Courtesy of Kelly Finley.
Pictured in group shot of Girls Rock Charlotte leadership, from left: Chesney Klubert, Volunteer Director; Brit Swider, Youth Director; Shannon Bauerle, Program Director; Lara Americo, Production and Music Education Director; Kelly Finley, Executive Director; and Krystle Baller, Music Director.