MARSHALL - It was a great day to be a girl Thursday afternoon at Grace Life Church in Marshall, where nearly 40 young ladies took part in the fifth annual L.O.L.! Club.
The camp, which was founded by House of Hope counselor Kim Sanow, has been taking place from 1-5 p.m. every day this week.
"It feels wonderful to have so many kids in attendance," Sanow said. "It's the biggest group yet. We finally found a time where we're not interfering with other things going on in the community. A lot of Vacation Bible Schools are in the morning, so we took the afternoon."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
From left: Jersey Leysen, Season Buchholz, Regan Loft, Kaia Williams and Hannah Babcock take part in an activity during the L.O.L.! Club camp in Marshall on Thursday.
Sanow encourages the girls to embrace being one-of-a-kind throughout their entire life.
"We want them to celebrate being a girl, to celebrate what their strengths are," she said.
A new theme is revealed each day to the girls, who are between second- and fifth-grade.
"We usually start out by talking about what bullying is and what cliques are at school, Sanow said. "We talk about some of the things girls have experienced in school. And second-graders can tell me exactly what bullying is. They know what it is. So they share a lot of information and we talk about it."
Along with high school mentors, the camp participants do a variety of activities each day.
"We decorated some name tags so we could call each other by our first names," Sanow said. "That's always neat, and we wear them the entire week. They also do a journal every day, so we get those decorated and going on Monday."
On Tuesday, a number of presentations and skits took place in an effort to help the girls identify bullies and their targets.
"Anybody can be a target," Sanow said. "You don't have to be a little girl to be a target. You could be a mom and still be a target. The mentors do skits and the girls identify what roles are being played in the skit."
Camp attendees also learn what a defender is.
"That's really awesome when they can identify with a defender," Sanow said.
On Wednesday, Sanow talks about friendship.
"The girls learned that if a friend isn't working out for them, they can look for other friends, too," she said. "They don't have to feel trapped. It gives them permission. They're in charge of their heart and they need to guard their heart. If someone is abusing you, then you need to move on and find someone who has like interests. We talk openly about that."
The mentors are also trained to talk to the girls in their small group gatherings. The half-dozen mentors are a key element to the success of the camp, Sanow said.
"The girls are a little shy the first day, so the mentors draw them in," Sanow said. "By today, the girls are hanging on the mentors. They can't wait to see them every day. It's awesome."
Some of the camp participants have actually returned to be mentors the past few years. Kaitlyn Timm, who will be a fifth-grader next year at Marshall Middle School, would like to come back and be a mentor someday.
"Kaitlyn has been to a couple of clubs and camps with me and is so positive every time she comes," Sanow said. "I told her I'd love for her to be a mentor someday and she just grinned. It's so rewarding to be a positive role model for these girls."
Timm said she was enjoying the L.O.L camp.
"We learn a bunch of different stuff about bullying and to not be a bully," she said. "It's fun. My favorite part is probably the crafts that we do. I really liked making the friendship bracelets. I picked purple, blue and green."
In addition to decorating little mirrors with paint markers and lots of bling, the girls also created friendship boxes. Each person in a mentor group put an uplifting message in the individual boxes.
"It's fun," third-grader Grace Ehlers said of doing the crafts. "My favorite part was doing the friendship box that people put notes in. I put notes that said 'you are awesome.'"
On Thursday, Sanow asked the girls to guess which famous people off the list, which included Taylor Swift, Emma Watson, Sandra Bullock, Tom Cruise, Demi Lovato, Lady Gaga, Tyra Banks, Kate Middleton and Christina Aguilera, they thought were bullied. It turned out that the entire list of 15 had been victims of bullying.
"If it could happen to them, it could happen to you," Sanow said.
While the girls filled in worksheets, Sanow talked about maintaining friendships and gave them tools to use when faced with tough decisions and conflict.
She also revealed tips about communication.
"A smile is a good way to connect with someone," she said. "You can tell whether or not someone is approachable that way."
Other advice offered Thursday was to listen, speak clearly, report abuse, give each other support and to act with integrity.
The camp concludes today with a parent engagement time, where the girls perform a song and dance.