Olivet College recently hosted the first ATHENA International Girls’ Leadership Camp, welcoming nearly 70 high school and middle school girls to campus to develop their leadership potential. The transformative three-day camp built upon girls’ unique attributes by focusing on building confidence and communication and networking skills. Girls left the camp inspired to advocate for themselves and others, find their courage to lead, learn how to express themselves to lead positive change, build other girls up, and stand in their voice by discovering their true authentic self.
“The Olivet College ATHENA International Girls’ Leadership Camp is an essential program to create a future of strong female leaders,” explained Traci Corey, Olivet College Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) director and presidential spouse. “Young women need to learn self-awareness, and what we witnessed at the camp affirmed that Olivet College is doing the right thing in providing leadership development tools to this population. Girls need to know it is okay to project their true selves and have the knowledge, confidence and voice to do that.”
Camp participants had the chance to learn from the acclaimed ATHENA Leadership model, developed by ATHENA International and used around the world. ATHENA International is a well-recognized successful non-profit organization founded in Lansing, Michigan that seeks to support, develop and honor women leaders through programs that are administered in partnership with host organizations.
The eight core principles of the model include:
- Live Authentically: Leaders know their values and remain true to them.
- Learn Constantly: Leaders seek knowledge.
- Build Relationships: Leaders engage, empower and trust.
- Foster Collaboration: Leaders welcome others to the work of leadership.
- Advocate Fiercely: Leaders champion what they believe is right.
- Act Courageously: Leaders dare.
- Give Back: Leaders serve.
- Celebrate: Leaders remember and rejoice.
Girls engaged in a series of lessons and activities shaped around each principle to learn more about the topic and how they could integrate it into their own leadership style. Campers were divided into “families” comprised of girls of all ages led by Ment-Hers who have completed the Olivet College ATHENA International Women’s Leadership Program. Each camper had the opportunity to take a personality assessment, share more about themselves and get involved with hands-on work. For instance, to learn more about fostering collaboration, participants worked in teams to build the tallest, free-standing tower made only of 20 pieces of spaghetti, one marshmallow, one yard of tape and one yard of string. The winning group’s tower reached almost 40 inches tall.
Each camp participant was able to share feedback and more about the ATHENA principles that resonated with them most. Almost 87 percent of girls said each of the principles helped them understand their unique capabilities and how to apply them, and 72 percent added that they gained confidence in themselves through the camp experience. Participants said they were most inspired to live authentically, act courageously, give back and advocate fiercely.
One camper said, “I learned that I always had leadership potential, I just had to embrace it,” and another added, “I learned everyone can be a leader, they just have to find courage and stand up for what they believe is right.”
Girls also spoke of their newfound confidence in sharing what they think is right, saying, “I gained confidence in opening up and speaking for myself,” and, “I learned how to speak up and share what you feel is right.”
Another camper concluded, “I loved the camp, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can lead.”
“Many of these girls learned that they have more leadership potential than they realized,” Traci said. “This camp allowed them to increase their self-confidence and inspired them to act courageously. For example, many girls said they felt empowered to face their fears, like speaking in front of groups and working in a large group setting. In addition, many girls also shared personal experiences, acknowledging that they felt safe, secure and valued in the camp environment.”
Living up to their title, Ment-Hers served as positive role models for the girls, and also built relationships with these emerging leaders. Further, the opportunity to serve as a Ment-Her positively impacted Olivet College students as well, reminding them of the reason women must build each other up.
“I think every little girl has a strong leader inside of her, but too often, as women, we lack the confidence in ourselves and our abilities to know we have the power to make a difference and change the world,” said Ment-Her Abigale Smith, who serves as Olivet College’s drum major and an advocate for mental health awareness on campus. “If I can help these young women realize their dreams are not only important, but possible, I want to set out to make it happen.
“I think the camp had a positive impact on girls by showing them they are capable of great and amazing things. I hope it gave them the confidence to know they all have special talents and gifts to offer the world, and nothing can stop them from reaching their goals, which includes being female. Women are smart and strong, and I hope each girl left feeling that and feeling empowered. We just have to remember that regardless of how tough things get, we’re tougher.”