Athena Camps – Girl Confidence Builder

Whenever somebody asks me what we’re doing this summer my first answer is Athena Camp. Although we are doing other things this summer too, I am so happy with the effect this all-girls camp has had on our lives I want to tell everybody about it.

Detail from the paper-covered walls, blank canvases at the beginning of the week, joyful art pieces by the end.
Detail from the paper-covered walls, blank canvases at the beginning of the week, joyful art pieces by the end.

The summer before Kindergarten, our daughter had a falling-out with her best friend from preschool. To this day I’m not sure what happened, but after being best buddies for a good two years, they suddenly started fighting every time they saw each other, friendship turned into dire competition and probably because of their past closeness, they were really good at pushing each other’s buttons. This was pretty rough on our daughter. She often cried and asked us why her friend was so mean to her, while apparently not being able to see that she was being just as mean.

Then Kindergarten came and she made a new best friend. All seemed rosy until one day, when she didn’t understand part of her homework and she said “I am so stupid”. I, of course, told her it was not so, comforted her and tried to explain the homework again.

“I am stupid, mama! M said so! I’m fat and stupid!”

“You’re neither fat, nor stupid, my love. You are smart, healthy, beautiful and hard-working. Trust me. That was not nice at all of her to say that.”

“You’re just saying that because you’re my mom. But M is my BFF. She wouldn’t lie to me. I trust her. If she says I’m fat and stupid, I’m fat and stupid”…

Talking to M’s parents proved difficult, they were very busy people; but the bigger issue was how to bring our daughter’s confidence back up, how to teach her to value herself and stand up for herself when somebody abuses her emotionally and verbally like that. Although we knew what we wanted to teach her, my husband and I didn’t know how to teach it.

Aby Ryan, founder of Athena Camps
Aby Ryan, founder of Athena Camps

That’s when we heard about Athena Camp, an all-girls empowering camp founded by CEO Aby Ryan, who was unsatisfied by the summer options available to her daughter. We quickly enrolled for summer 2013 and after 3 weeks of camp, our daughter was back to being the happy kid we knew her to be, full of life, enthusiastic about her new love of tennis, confidence regained. And when first grade started, she was cautiously friendly toward M, distant but kind, and I was impressed with her level of maturity.

How did Athena Camp do all this? By helping our daughter feel proud of being who she is, physically, emotionally and intellectually.

The campers spent a week on the theme of Inner Beauty – talking, drawing, making crafts, writing, sharing stories, all on that subject. My favorite project was when they drew and cut out a paper outline of their own body and then drew on it their favorite body part. Our camper chose her throat, “because without it you can’t breathe”.

576_fig3_042314_Athena Camps – Girl Confidence Builder
The Boost Board, with positive messages

The next week’s theme was Friendship – how to be a good friend, how to recognize when someone is being a bad friend and what to do in that situation; again with all sorts of projects on the subject. During outdoor time (which is a good chunk of the day), the girls played tennis, basketball, volleyball, soccer, did yoga and running. Throughout the day, coaches and campers alike place personal boosts on the Boost Board – these are sticky notes with short positive messages from one girl to another. Affirmation Circles take place every day – a time to share positive statements as a group. And most importantly, the women who run this camp are strong women, athletes themselves, great role models. As an anecdote, our daughter started eating red peppers last summer because her favorite coach had a whole red pepper for lunch one day.

She still likes red peppers.

Whether your 6-to-11-year-old daughter is struggling emotionally or not (but if she isn’t, there may be something wrong… ha!), Athena Camps is a fantastic way to spend time this summer. One week or many, in any combination of sports and themes, it can only affect her (and therefore you) for the better. We’ll see you there…

You can find Athena Camps in San Jose (Willow Glen) and Los Altos, CA.

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History Repeating: Romania 1998, Venezuela 2014

In December 1989 students took to the streets of Romania, first in Timişoara, then in Bucureşti and other towns, to protest the Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu, the lack of safety, freedom, and resources. At first peaceful, the protests turned bloody quickly as the police and army attacked the students. Many died. On December 22nd, 1989, the police and army joined the students – the revolutionaries – and together defeated the secret communist police called Securitate (which ironically means “Security”).

Students, soldiers and children participating in the Romanian Revolution. Image by © David Turnley/CORBIS
Students, soldiers and children uniting during the Romanian Revolution. December 1989. Image by © David Turnley/CORBIS

I was only 12 when this happened, and I tell most people who ask me about my experience that I was old enough to understand what was happening, but young enough to think it was exciting, and not scary. My father, a physician, felt compelled to leave the safety of our house and go help. We thought the fighting was going on elsewhere, in some other distant place, but just a few minutes after my father left we heard gunshots down the street from us. We took some blankets, pillows, water, food, the dog and the cat and hid under the piano. It was the perfect hiding spot, really. The lid of the piano was exactly below the windows, so when the bullets started flying, we were protected. We noticed a pattern in the sequence of bullets, never just one, but several in a row, several minutes apart, so we got pretty good at listening for the breaks in order to run for the bathroom.

My father returned to get more supplies; there were many wounded people to bandage. He told us they were all so young, university students, and probably even younger. He looked at me, and tears came to his eyes when he saw how excited I was about the whole situation. Looking back I finally understand his tears. He saw in me the reason for what was happening outside.

The power of the young is their enthusiasm, energy and unapologetic belief in a bright future. This power is much stronger than their sense of safety. It is a force that can topple down governments and stand up to entire armies with a wildflower. Bringing up a child in a communist dictatorship implies the hope that that child will make history and change the country for the better. What my father saw in my enthusiasm was the bitter truth that those university students outside were willing to die so that the rest of the country – including their parents – could have a better life.

Well, it is happening again, this time in Venezuela. Students have taken to the streets to peacefully protest the lack of safety, freedom, and resources. Many are dying. When the Romanian police and army joined the students in 1989, they did it because they were all the same age, and were all hoping for that bright future. Within hours, the revolutionaries took over the Television and Radio, and finally arrested Ceauşescu. Things in Venezuela are still happening, the police are still shooting at the people they are supposed to protect. I don’t know what the end will be, and when, but I am pretty sure the students will do anything in their power to get that bright future they deserve.

Since all media from Venezuela has been shut down, it is very hard to know what is happening. I am sharing this video to help spread the news.

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