Girls’ retreat deemed a success
The first “I Am Awesome! (And I Know It!)” retreat for girls aged 10-14, which ran this past weekend at Hanson’s Hideaway Lodge in Nestor Falls, was just that—awesome.
“It was inspiring to see the young girls come out of their shells over the course of the weekend,” said organizer Renée Martin-Brown, adding she was pleased to have 19 girls attend.
“I would even go as far to say that some were pretty guarded, really tough exteriors.
“I wasn’t sure if they were going to fully embrace the weekend,” Martin-Brown admitted.
“Then we had the different workshops, and the girls started to network and become friends,” she noted.
“They really bonded through the group work and activities, so that was very cool to see.”
The workshops included “Discovering Your Passions” with Sylvie Matthews, drama with Katherine Williams, yoga with Kathy Loney, visual arts with Wendy Turcott, creative writing with Carrie Shouldice, and a presentation by Bethany Bullock of Firefly Counselling Services in Dryden.
And despite two days of rain, Martin-Brown said everything went off without a hitch.
“Hanson’s put up a huge tarp, which still gave us the opportunity to have our fire, have our s’mores, and sing songs,” she noted, adding they even had a karaoke party.
“Everyone was really involved so it was great to see,” Martin-Brown stressed, adding she feels the retreat accomplish what she set out to do.
“My goal was to inspire just one girl to see herself differently, be more self-accepting, and to know they have a gift in the world,” she explained.
“And in my heart, I really believe we touched more than one.”
She especially referred to one girl who started out the weekend very guarded and then really came out of her shell.
“She shared her story and let herself really take it all in,” Martin-Brown said. “When she left, there was a smile on her face and tears because she had to leave.
“So if that doesn’t mean we’ve made a difference, then I don’t know what does.”
Martin-Brown also said she’s received plenty of positive feedback.
“All I’m hearing is that the girls were happy to be there and lots of them talked all the way home,” she remarked.
“I think that’s why I feel like it’s a success,” she continued. “There was a lot of sharing. The girls let themselves be really vulnerable.
“I don’t think I was fully equipped to handle everything they were going through,” she admitted, adding she was happy Bullock was on hand to help out.
“She [Bullock] really was able to offer her expertise to the girls,” Martin-Brown stressed.
“She did her workshop presentation on what your core beliefs are. But then she allowed some time just to speak to some of the girls.
“She was able to spend time with the girls who really needed her at that moment.”
Martin-Brown said the issues she had planned to focus on—self-esteem and self-acceptance—were covered, but the main thing that was brought forth was the topic of bullying.
“I know that bullying is a huge issue for girls today, but I had no idea how severe it really is for them,” she remarked.
“When we went to school, sure we were bullied, but I think we called it teasing more than bullying.
“But when we went home, we were with our families, we were away from that environment, we had a little bit of reprieve before we had to go to school again the next day,” she added.
“But girls now are bullied 24 hours a day,” she said. “They are bullied at school, and then they come home and they are bullied on the Internet. They are never getting away from it.
“It’s on social media, through texting, and websites—girls are surrounded by it all the time.”
Which is why Martin-Brown had very strict cellphone rules during the retreat. They were not allowed their phone between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
“They went in a basket with me during that time,” she noted. “They were not allowed them at lunch or at break.
“If they needed to make a phone call to their parents, they were welcome to use my phone. . . .
“I thought it defeated the purpose to have them there and conversing with their friends in the outside world,” Martin-Brown reasoned.
“I needed them to be there and present, and building new friendships and new bonds.”
But Martin-Brown said it didn’t affect them much anyway because they were just so busy.
“We were laughing, sharing, and having fun,” she enthused. “They loved the projects and they loved the workshops.”
After asking what their favourites were, many said they really enjoyed the visual arts project where they created journals.
“They got to make it truly their own,” Martin-Brown said. “And they were all unique. None of them looked the same, no one copied anyone else.
“Some were sparkly like their sparkly personalities and others had small personal touches.”
Martin-Brown noted they also really enjoyed the yoga.
“The girls were peaceful and engaged,” she recalled. “It was just really beautiful.
“They tried hard even if it wasn’t their thing and no one complained,” she added. “They listened and were all-consumed by it.
“[But] all of the workshops were great,” she remarked. “The presenters all touched on different topics.
“Some were light and some were deep.”
Martin-Brown is planning to hold the retreat again next year.
“We definitely know that there are things we can do differently,” she conceded. “We know we need to target the bullying because it is relevant to what is happening in their lives.
“And I think until they overcome the bullying, it’s going to be really difficult for them to improve their self-esteem.”
And she wants to change the name from a self-esteem workshop to a personal discovery weekend.
“My vision was for it to be about self-esteem and empowerment, but it ended out being a weekend of personal discovery,” she explained.
“Who am I? What do I believe in? What are my gifts for the world?
“It is more personal for them,” Martin-Brown noted. “It really hits it on the head for me, especially in retrospect when I see what we accomplished.
“Each girl took away something different.”
In related news, the “I Am Awesome! (And I Know It!)” retreat has been submitted to compete for a share of $1 million in the Aviva Community Fund.
People can vote online, with the first round going until Oct. 14.
“You can vote every day,” Martin-Brown urged. “It would make it possible to reach more girls.
“I am passionate about instilling confidence and positive self-esteem, and I want every young woman to know that they are unique, valued, and worth the effort,” she stressed.