The day started early for me – before 7 am. After weeks of preparation, I was in my office at the Martin de Porres Center, waiting for the doorbell to ring – signaling the arrival of the first Girls for Peace, a summer camp mission of the Dominican Sisters of Peace. The Martin de Porres Center is a ministry of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, encouraging arts, spirituality, and outreach to Latino and African American youth in Columbus, OH. The camp was supported by the Catholic Foundation of Columbus.
The idea behind Girls for Peace was simple – to encourage pre-teen girls to meet and get to know Sisters from the Dominican Sisters of Peace. The goals of the camp were several - to help young girls in Columbus to become more comfortable interacting with our Sisters, to open their minds to a possible call to religious life, to promote peace by introducing important social justice issues, and to help give the girls the emotional and social tools they would need as they moved into their teen years.
The four-day camp welcomed girls ages 8-12 from the Columbus, OH area. The camp was free for participants, supported by grants from the Columbus Catholic Foundation and the Catholic Health Initiative (CHI).
The schedule for the camp included both activity and time for introspection and discussion. Sisters from our Columbus, OH Motherhouse and from other ministries around the country were part of every activity, acting as helpers, leaders and guides.
We began each day with a prayerful intention – a statement by each girl about her hope for that day. We displayed each girl’s intention in the meeting room so we could be mindful of our goals and work towards them. We shared a meal every day, and the girls took turns blessing the food. Every day ended with a prayer of gratitude for what we had learned and the friends we had made that day. Mornings were for field trips and craft activities, while we spent our afternoons watching videos to learn about social justice issues, then practicing teamwork and conflict resolution through discussion of these issues.
Day One of the Camp was a whirlwind. We began with a “Getting to Know You” exercise where campers and Sisters intermingled to ask and answer questions about each other. This ice-breaker helped the girls meet the Sisters in a purposeful, but non-threatening way.
Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Peace Leadership team and an accomplished potter, led the girls in our first craft activity – creating clay sandals! The girls were creative, enthusiastic, and a little messy, but with the help of our Sisters and other volunteers, created 30 cute little sandals.
An afternoon trip to Ohio Dominican University, located adjacent to the Martin de Porres Center, gave many of the girls their first look at a college campus. We encouraged them to think about their own potential – what would college look like for each of them? What did they want to learn? What did they want to do with their lives? The answers were eye-opening for campers and for those of us on the staff as well.
Day two was a trip to the Dominican Sisters of Peace Ecology Center at Shepherd’s Corner. The girls toured the solar-powered barn to learn about alternative power sources, played with Farm’s sheep and llama, and learned to identify helpful plants. They also walked the Farm’s labyrinth, learning the peace that God’s creation can provide.
On day three, we utilized Zoom conferencing technology to meet with Sr. Gene Poore, OP, and Farnoosh Droodgar, the director of LEAD, an outreach ministry to underprivileged youth in Jamaica. Sr. Gene and Farnoosh had recently returned from a mission to Jamaica, and could share first hand examples of social justice issues with the girls. Despite some technical issues with our connection, the girls were able to view the location that was served during the Jamaican mission and see some of the girls at the Jamaican youth center. Campers had an opportunity to use computers and to research the issues faced by their Jamaican peers and prepare a presentation.
The girls also learned yoga, which was designed both to help them learn to relax and to increase body confidence, a serious problem with girls in their teen years.
The final day of the camp tied the activities of the week together. Sisters helped to moderate the groups of girls as they created PowerPoint presentations to explain their ideas for creating a more just and peaceful world. We spent part of the morning with Dominican Sisters of Peace, learning about their lives and their varied ministries for peace. And a presentation on Superhero mythology, with a special emphasis on Wonder Woman, gave the girls inspiration for writing their own book, “Becoming Me.”
While the campers’ planned activities were important to reaching the vocation goals of the camp, as is so often the case, it was those unplanned moments that have stayed with me even after the girls are gone.
- Sr. Ana Gonzalez, OP, braiding a girl’s hair, or leading her team in a game of “Follow the leader” around the meeting room …
- Sr. June Fitzgerald, OP, helping a young girl design her own “Superheroine”…
- Sr. Mattie Starner, OP, giggling with a young girl as they painted clay sandals …
- The smiles and laughter of young girls and Sisters as they worked together to create peace – even if just for the day.
So many children never see a Sister outside of a church setting. This four days of fun, contemplation and shared experience gave these girls more than a fun summer outing – it gave them a new option to consider for their future. We all pray that this peek into the consecrated life will help these young women be more able and willing to hear God’s call, whatever it is.