Give me a ‘G!’ G!
Give me an ‘E!’ E!
Give me an ‘M!’ M!
Give me an ‘S!’ S!
What does that spell? G-E-M-S, GEMS!

Welcome back to the Girls Empowered at Mountain Shepherd trilogy! In our last feature, we began breaking down the G.E.M.S. acronym with a list of some of the benefits of outdoor experiences designed especially for girls – our letter ‘G.’ Now you might be curious about our word choice for the letter ‘E.’ What does it mean to be empowered? How do we include our motto, “Courage, Confidence, and Compassion,” in the empowerment of our participants? Read on!

To be empowered is to feel stronger, more confident, and more capable of doing something. Empowerment is defined, in English, as the process toward this “can-do” attitude. Through this process, an individual learns more about themselves and their abilities, rights, and desires, and, once they feel empowered, that individual transforms into an agent of change. The G.E.M.S. experience is inherently a process of empowerment, and it works because of the atmosphere. In a program created by women for girls, with no judgement, positive role models, and opportunities to be strong, get dirty, create something, and be yourself, there is ample time and space for girls to begin or continue their empowerment process. Girls who have participated in G.E.M.S. often say before leaving, “Now I know what I can do!”

“Courage, Confidence, and Compassion” make up the G.E.M.S. model of exploration. During a program, these three traits are encouraged and developed through investigation of seven wilderness survival priorities: positive mental attitude, first aid, shelter, fire, signaling, water, and food. G.E.M.S. girls learn and practice the hands-on skills connected to each of these priorities, while they also explore the parallels between each backcountry survival priority and their social lives in the “frontcountry.”

For instance, while at G.E.M.S., a girl learns several ways in which to build and sustain a fire. She’ll review different tinders and discover the many reasons to use fire during a survival situation, from warmth to signaling for help. Then, she’ll be encouraged to connect firecraft to her life at home and at school. Fire is often a symbol for passion, and maybe for danger as well. What are her passions? What plays the role of tinder and kindling to keep her inner fire blazing, keeping her motivated to go after her goals?

The survey of survival priorities and development of practical skills fosters confidence in girls in the same way other achievements, like earning a high score on a difficult test or setting a personal record in a sport, can do. During G.E.M.S., girls accomplish many tasks by starting with small skills and building upon those, like learning knot-tying before constructing their own improvised shelters, or practicing knife safety before using a fixed blade to break down pitchwood for a fire. With every new or expanded-upon skill, girls add another twig of “can-do” kindling to their growing confidence blaze.

Discovering personalities, goals, and interactions with others asks for a lot of courage and compassion. Courage allows girls to do something that frightens them, whether that’s standing up to a bully in school or setting a goal that might seem out of reach. Compassion fosters a sense of kindness and understanding toward others, which aids in problem-solving and relationship-building. Confidence empowers girls to investigate these other traits with open minds and to try new things in order to develop these traits within themselves.

The three C’s of G.E.M.S. quite clearly work together to create a safe space – an improvised shelter, if you will – for girls to explore their surroundings, their social lives, and themselves through the lens of wilderness survival. A girl may begin G.E.M.S. having already kickstarted her own empowerment journey, or not; regardless, adding courage, confidence, and compassion to her tool kit will empower her to continue that journey through middle school and beyond.

For more information on how G.E.M.S. connects wilderness survival skills to the “frontcountry” lives of middle school-aged girls, check out our next feature here on Macaroni Kid Roanoke! We’ll be discussing the “M.S.” of the acronym, which stands for Mountain Shepherd.