A group of 65 girls from across Northwestern Ontario attended Sunny Cove Camp from Sept. 20-23 for a weekend of empowerment, building positive self-esteem, and leadership skills.
The annual “I Am Awesome (And I Know It)” self-esteem retreat for young women brought in girls aged 11-16 from Rainy River District, as well as Dryden, Kenora, and Thunder Bay.
All of the activities at the retreat were led through “arts-based workshops” that included yoga, painting, crafts, drama, creative writing, song writing, and music.
The girls’ response to the retreat’s programming has been overwhelmingly positive and retreat organizer Renee Martin-Brown attributed part of that success to this year’s new “no cellphones policy.”
“The girls are having a great time,” she enthused. “It’s been super-positive.
“We find them to be much more engaged,” Martin-Brown noted. “We can get their attention immediately and they’re more focused in the workshops.
“We just find that there is less distractions.”
Still, Martin-Brown also recognizes the important role cellphones play in connecting the retreat girls with one another after the weekend comes to a close.
“For all the negative side of it, social media makes it easy,” she remarked. “They can stay so well-connected and it makes them look forward to seeing each other every year.
“I think that’s also what helps brings them back.”
Martin-Brown was really proud of the group for being present and agreeing to the policy. She initially was worried it would effect their numbers but this year’s 65 spots filled up quickly like in the years past.
The retreat has maintained a 50 percent return rate for girls who attend, which shows the impact it is having, she noted.
“They want to come back, they want to participate again, and I think that if the program really was not giving them something tangible, something that their carrying forward, why would they be here again?” Martin-Brown mused.
“We do see a shift in the impact, for sure, and that’s why I’m always grateful that we have that return rate,” she added.
“Otherwise, how do you gauge the impact of the program?”
Charlotte Burchill said she really enjoys the freedom the girls have at the retreat, where they can hang out and chat with one another without constant supervision.
One of the more valuable things she learned at the retreat was “how to let go” and not hold onto negative thoughts or feelings.
Keira Fairnington said she enjoyed the crafts workshops that included painting tiles and making friendship bracelets.
She told the Times she found the retreat to be very helpful for becoming less shy, coming out of her shell, and being more confident in who she is as a person.
Both girls hope to return to the retreat next year.
Martin-Brown said she finds planning the retreat to be incredibly gratifying and is thankful for all the people who help her make it possible each year.
“I keep putting the program out there and the program keeps filling up, so there’s a need there,” she noted.
“And I can only do that because I’m well-supported by a team that comes back and shows up.
“And this is a team of women that I admire and that have supported me through my life,” Martin-Brown added. “I bring in the people that I trust so that I can be authentically me in the most stressful times.
“It’s not all smooth sailing every single year,” she conceded. “These girls have their own complexities and issues arise.
“But at the end of the day, they’re making connections and I, too, am fostering connections with the women I admire and I support who continue to come back and support me.
“It’s just this really inspiring chain of events.”
Martin-Brown hopes to continue to run the retreat so long as there’s an interest expressed by young girls in Northwestern Ontario.