On this rainy Monday, over 100 middle school girls from all across Fairfield County filed into the New Canaan High School gym for the very first day of Camp LiveGirl.

Each camper was met by an enthusiastic high school mentor, who checked them in, handed them a lime green LiveGirl t-shirt, and guided them to a small group with a few other LiveGirls. As the girls played an icebreaker game with Starburst candy, laughter and conversation echoed through the gym, and the first-day-of-camp tentativeness dissipated.

After icebreakers, the girls were brought into the auditorium where LiveGirl founder and director Sheri West welcomed them, chanting the LiveGirl motto with the campers: “I am smart, I am strong, I am special”. After introducing herself and her small town-Michigan background, she revealed that her mother always told her to “dream big”, words that she held with her from from high school, to grad school, then to General Electric. At GE, she joined the Women’s Network, where she was mentored by women in senior positions within the company. She credits this program to her later success at GE, and was inspired to pay it forward to the next generation of female leaders by creating a mentoring program of her own, AKA LiveGirl.

Ms. West decided to cater LiveGirl to middle-school aged girls because, as a mother of a teen girl, she knows just how hard middle school can be. “Middle school should be a forgiving time. A time to try new things, take risks, fail, start over, and figure things out,” she said in her welcome. “I created LiveGirl as a ‘safe space’, where all girls can be surrounded by positivity, inspiration, and learn the leadership skills to successfully navigate high school so that you can eventually rule the world!”

As part of her introduction, Ms. West played  #BeLikeHer, a YouTube video that became viral earlier this month urging girls to look up to their female role models for inspiration and encouragement to follow their dreams. After watching the video, Ms. West passed around the microphone as the girls shared who they look up to, which included figures such as Malala Yousafzai, Clara Barton, Alessia Cara, and their own mothers. 

Meg Domino, Executive Director of New Canaan CARES, then took the lead for today’s Leaders in Action workshop. Focusing on the theme of “being yourself”, she showed the campers the music video to Colbie Caillat’s “Try”, a song telling girls that they are enough, and shouldn’t change anything about themselves. Ms. Domino then conducted a debrief with the LiveGirls after the video, discussing how to video made them feel. “You’re beautiful with makeup; makeup isn't bad,” one LiveGirl said. “You just have to know that you’re equally beautiful without it, and you don’t need it to make people like and respect you.”

Following Leaders in Action was small-group mentoring with the high school mentors, where the LiveGirls talked about what they liked about themselves, and why it was important to be confident. Then, the girls ate lunch catered by Simply Delicious, and broke for an afternoon of sports and musical theater workshops. 

Despite being a chilly and rainy day outside, Ms. West, Ms. Domino, and the high school mentors welcomed each LiveGirl with the warmth of welcome and the brightness of a smile. As the day progressed, each LiveGirl was able to reflect on what made them smart, strong, and special. And many of them could not wait to come back tomorrow to learn more about leadership and have fun with new friends!