Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls
Aug 20-25
Portland State University

Great ideas have a way of forcing themselves into reality. Misty McElroy has had a great idea for nine years that is finally going to see the light of day on August 20th.

Misty's idea is the Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls--a week-long summer camp where 100 girls of all races, physical abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds will find empowerment and build self-esteem through playing rock 'n' roll. Her vision is a place for young women to learn to sing, play guitar, bass, or drums, and gain knowledge about promotion, zine writing, and lighting and sound. The girls will also learn self-defense skills and have the opportunity to attend panel discussions on body image and the music business with professional women working in the music industry.

Though she had been kicking the idea around for almost a decade, it wasn't until late last year that the circumstances to make it happen fell into place. In September, Misty came to Portland to finish up her Women's Studies degree at PSU. Having to fulfill a number of community service hours, Misty saw her opportunity. "With a Women's Studies degree, it's pretty typical to volunteer in battered women's shelters and really noble projects like that. I've done all that before in New York and Chicago. I thought if I could pass this camp off as a community service, that would force me to do it," says McElroy. Three days after arriving in Portland, she got the green light from her academic advisor. Ever since, it's been 14-hour days of making plans and drumming up support.

The support has been overwhelming, the local community and big-name stars alike, have been eager to pitch in. "People are just so amazing," Misty says, clearly amazed herself. "They just call up and say 'Hi, I'm a lawyer, I'm a graphic designer, I'm a public relations person, I'm this, I'm that, and I want to help you. That's how it's been every day." The teaming numbers of helping hands have turned the senior project into a full-fledged phenomenon, witnessed by the fact that the 100 spots for campers were filled within three weeks. "People with daughters are totally freaking out. Moms, Dads, and Grandmothers read about the camp and call up saying this is just the most incredible opportunity for their girls to go out and do this stuff," says Karamy Muessig, Communications Director of the camp. "The reaction has been, 'Oh my God, where was this when I was a kid?'"

As the camp grows, Misty and her crew of volunteers have remained determined to keep it affordable to everybody. The price of the camp was set at $20 for each girl, and they are seeking out other ways to cover the $300 per camper cost. There have been donations and corporate sponsorships, benefit shows and instrument drives at local venues, as well as an eBay auction of paraphernalia donated by supporters like Alanis Morissette, The Beastie Boys, Gina Shock of the Go-Gos, Bikini Kill, Kill Rock Stars, Luscious Jackson and others, which runs through August 17.

Support has also come in the form of professional women volunteering their time to speak, teach, and perform at the various panel discussions and workshops during the camp. Musicians Heaven's Burning, and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney and Quasi, as well as public relations people, sound women, and others have all donated their time and experience to the camp.

Also volunteering their services is the Open Hand Self Defense School. With misogyny prevalent in a lot of popular music, and fiascoes like Woodstock 2000 where countless women were assaulted, Misty feels strongly that women in music need to know how to take care of themselves. "Part of going to a show for anybody, but especially for a girl, is being able to defend yourself. Music can be really aggressive, and it brings a lot of different kinds of energy out of everybody. You've got to know where to channel it, and you've got to know what to do if someone turns it on you." Through personal experience, she's learned the importance of being able to stand up for yourself. "There was definitely a shift in my mind when I knew that I could fight back. I really want that experience to translate for the girls."

Ultimately, The Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls is about creating a space in which aspiring young women of any ability or background can feel safe, encouraged and empowered to have fun, make some noise, and gain access to resources that will help them follow their dreams. "I want their self-esteem to be impacted," Misty says. "I want them to feel good about themselves. Whatever the camper expects, I want that to be blown away and exceeded. Music is so many things to so many people. I want it to mean even more at the end."

The camp will conclude with a showcase on Saturday, August 25th at Meow Meow. Find out more at www.girlsrockcamp.org.