One of the things that makes Girls Empowered by Mountain Shepherd (G.E.M.S.) such a sparkling gem is that it is an outdoor program created for girls, by women. This simple concept puts G.E.M.S. on the map with organizations like Girl Scouts, Girls on the Run, and several other programs that emphasize outdoor and athletic endeavors for girls and women. These experiences are created to provide a special space for girls to participate in activities generally geared toward boys, and to glean from those activities knowledge and traits that will equip them for anything that adolescent life throws their way. Perhaps now you’re wondering, “What exactly are some benefits of an outdoor experience designed for girls?”

1. No-judgement Zone
Adolescent girls spend years battling with their own self-esteem through exclusive friend circles, high-pressure co-ed socials, and competitive academics and athletics. A survey commissioned by the American Association of University Women found that girls grow out of adolescence with “a poor self-image, relatively low expectations from life, and much less confidence in themselves and their abilities,” compared to boys of the same age.¹
Experiences for only girls provide them with a positive mental and emotional break from those stresses and pressures. Girls feel more welcomed to be themselves, ask questions, think critically, be creative, and just goof off in designated no-judgement zones created specifically for them. Girls are more likely to try new things when surrounded by supportive peers, which is why at G.E.M.S., mealtimes chats are dominated by, “Today was the first time I…”

2. Shoulders to lean on and some to look up to
Friendships and self-love are emphasized in girls-only spaces, while pressures from and about boys are put on hold. Girls are better able to form female friendships when sharing exciting, challenging experiences instead of circling each other in social competitions. Girl-to-girl bullying also decreases when girls are removed from their high-pressure daily routines and encouraged to learn about their similarities and differences in a new environment.
Additionally, experiences created for girls are often created by women, and with women facilitating, girls are apt to emerge from these experiences with real-life role models and mentors. Learning from women alongside fellow girls can also encourage girls to draw inspiration from the women already active in their daily lives, like coaches, parents, teachers, and youth group leaders. A girl surrounded by positive female forces has endless connections for help, encouragement, and advice to get her through the rough patches of adolescence.

3. Out of the box, away from the screens
Being outside levels the playing field for girls from different backgrounds, regardless of their previous outdoor experiences. Girls who arrive as self-proclaimed outdoor experts lend their confidence and support to girls who may live surrounded by bricks and concrete, while the latter may just inspire the expert to try something new with her. Female outdoor facilitators model for girls confidence, courage, and compassion through their participation in outdoor adventures, and through their love for and knowledge of the natural environment. Such realistic models offer an alternative to the standards for women portrayed by the media bombarding today’s girls.

Read more about the 3 C’s of G.E.M.S., Courage, Confidence, and Compassion, in our next post, where we’ll discuss the ‘E’ – Empowerment!

Author’s note: You are reading the first in a three-article series about Girls Empowered at Mountain Shepherd, an overnight camp for middle school-aged girls based in Catawba, VA. Follow along as we break down our G.E.M.S. acronym, and to find out more about G.E.M.S. Camp.