[Idea File] Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls

This week’s successfully replicated idea:


The Haunted Skinny Jeans band before their performance in Portland, OR this summer. Photo by Band Manager Laysa Quintero.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls (RnRC4G) is a nonprofit that empowers young girls and women through music. Originally founded in 2000 by Misty McElroy as part of a women’s studies project at Portland State University, there are now 30 affiliate camps all over the world from Oakland, CA to London. It’s no surprise that the idea has taken center stage in so many places; I volunteered there this summer and can attest to its overall awesomeness.

I interviewed sts—drummer, zinester, filmmaker, and the nonprofit’s current Program Director—to learn how RnRC4G has grown and amplified its impact.

Tell us about how the idea for Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls was conceived.

Inspired by Ladyfest and the Riot Grrl movement, RnRC4G was founded to address a lack of feminist resources for girls, especially in creating and performing music, and playing instruments such as the drums, electric guitar, and turntables. We have also always provided self-defense classes to every camper.

Why do you think the idea caught on in so many places?

This mission of the RnRC4G is so inspiring! So many women, feminists, and musicians deeply connect with our mission and core values, and they want to see it happen in their own communities, which is incredible. Rock Camp is a great place to explore teamwork, conflict-resolution, creative experimentation, and performance in a supportive environment surrounded by amazing female mentors. It’s fun, exciting, and very positive. I think the magic is in the mission: to put self-esteem and life skills development first, and use music creation and instruction as a tool to help our campers practice being leaders, resolving conflict, working as a team, and putting aside relational-aggressive behaviors in favor of supporting one another. This is a great environment for almost everyone, including the instructors, coaches, and counselors.

How exactly did the other camps come into existence?

It totally varies from camp to camp, but it seems that in the beginning, touring musicians, summer camp volunteers, and other women involved with our programs were so excited about their experiences here that they decided to bring the mission to life in their own cities through opening up their own camps. Most organizers are volunteers who have day jobs. They start the way we started — by gathering support from local feminists, musicians, businesses and other community supporters; borrowing gear; getting donations; and getting campers and volunteers to come together for a week of summer camp.

The Girls Rock Camp Alliance (GRCA) now has about 30 affiliate camps, continually inspiring new camps all over the world. We are not a franchise. GRCA is in place to help network like-minded camps and offer a means of skill sharing, networking, and institutionalizing our programs and mission.

If I wanted to open up a Rock Camp in my town, what would the general step-by-step process look like?

Go to GRCA and see if your idea matches with our mission, statement of purpose and core values. If it does, the next step is to apply to become a pending affiliate organization, and try to attend the annual conference in March each year. Its only $20 to join, and there’s financial assistance to get at least one organizer to attend. We offer workshops on how to start a summer camp, become a nonprofit, organize and train volunteers, fundraise, as well as work with donors, parents, and your community.

Or, get a space, put on a benefit show, and spread the word that you’re starting a Rock Camp and see what happens!

What advice would you give to others looking to replicate this idea?

I tell people that the first things they need is a powerful mission statement and a website. Self-esteem in girls looks different to many people, and in different cultures. Try to get as much community support and input as possible and find out what the needs are in your community. In Rock Camp world, making music in a fun and supportive environment can mean something different for everyone.

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