Rock camp aims to help girls tune in

Amelia and Olive Shull
Amelia and Olive Shull

Todd Cohen

CARRBORO, N.C. – Tuning young girls into themselves by plugging them into the fun and enterprise of rock music is the business of Girls Rock NC.

And part of the fun for the campers is the job of finding a name for their fledgling rock bands.

One group, for example, dubbed its band “Emotional Baggage Claim,” while others chose “Poison Peach Pits,” “Blew Mondays,” and “Anonymiss.”

A summer camp that aims to help girls age seven to 17 build character and self-esteem, Girls Rock NC immerses campers in the work of forming and naming a band, and learning to play instruments, express themselves through song, mesh as a group and market their music.

“The agenda is body confidence and teamwork, and the vehicle is arts-and-crafts and rock-and-roll, and to encourage them to be seen and be heard,” says Amelia Shull, a rock musician and art teacher at Carolina Friends School in Durham.

Inspired by a girls’ rock camp in Portland, Ore., Shull four years ago formed Girls Rock NC as a one-week summer camp she has run with two friends and a corps of other volunteers she has recruited, with only women serving as mentors at camp.

Part of an alliance of over half-a-dozen rock camps throughout the U.S. and abroad that enroll a total of 1,500 girls, Girls Rock NC during four one-week sessions this summer will enroll 100 girls, four times its initial enrollment.

Earlier this year, Girls Rock NC received tax-exempt status from the IRS.

And through a program supported by Triangle Community Foundation, the group has received consulting from Executive Service Corps of the Greater Triangle to help it develop, recruit and train a board to run the organization and help raise money to finance its growth.

“We’re a bunch of creative and enthusiastic women,” says Shull, “but the nonprofit side of things needs to be in order.”

With volunteers serving as instructors, the camp charges each camper $250 but tries to offer scholarships for girls who otherwise could not afford to attend, Shull says.

“I really want girls from diverse economic backgrounds to have an opportunity to experiment with expressing themselves through music,” she says.

Girls from all backgrounds are welcome, and no musical ability or sense of rhythm is required, Shull says.

And spots for younger girls fill up quickly once registration opens in February, she says, although the camp still has some openings for teens.

To be more accessible to a more diverse group of girls, the camp this summer has relocated from loaned space at Carolina Friends School and will be offered in loaned space at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro and at Camelot Academy in Durham.

Each camp session features workshops on songwriting; body confidence; stage presence; creating “zines,” or magazines; merchandising and promoting the bands; and making band t-shirts and buttons.

The workshop on zines, for example, is taught by women who work at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke University.

“We want to convince girls they can do anything,” Shull says.

Girls Rock NC gives all campers a rock ‘n’ roll guidebook for girls that features articles on topics like how to tune your guitar or play music with your parents, along with profiles of women in North Carolina with creative jobs.

On June 6-12, the Colony Theater in Raleigh will screen a documentary about the Portland girls-rock camp that inspired Shull and that also is the subject of a book.

To raise money, Girls Rock NC in April held a silent auction at Parker and Otis, a specialty food store in Durham.

The two-hour event, which included a performance by Rebecca & the Hi-Tones, generated $3,500.

And in addition to providing support for the consulting that Girls Rock NC received from Executive Service Corps, Triangle Community Foundation introduced the organization to its own grantmaking process.

Girls Rock NC now has a grant proposal pending with the foundation.

In March, Shull and her volunteer co-directors, Abby Pearce and Beth Turner, attended the second annual Girls Rock Camp Alliance Conference, held in New York State.

In May, Shull and Turner are serving on a panel on rock camps at the second annual “Women, Rock! and Politics” conference at the University of Georgia.

And on July 19 at 7 p.m., 75 campers age 10 to 17 will perform in their bands at “Camp Showcase” at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro.

Now, as Girls Rock NC gears up to become an official nonprofit with a working board, Shull is looking ahead.

“We hope one day to have our own building,” she says. “Girls are going to be really loud.”

The group also aims to develop fundraising and marketing strategies, secure grants, recruit more volunteers, and develop an after-school program to give teen girls a safe place to learn and grow year-round.

By playing rock ‘n’ roll and working with creative women who volunteer as instructors, Shull says, girls can learn, have fun, express themselves and build confidence.

And she hopes her own 18-month-old daughter one day will attend the camp.

“This is a lot of hard work I do in my free time,” Shull says, “and I really hope it pays off by continuing to grow and become a program my daughter can attend in the future.”

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