I would like to tell you a story about summer camp.
For a good chunk of years when I was a wee thing, I spent my summers at Camp Laurel-In, the summer day camp at the Waterbury Girls' Club. (If you're under age 20, Girls' Clubs were what Girls Inc. is now– they rebranded in '98.)
The Waterbury Girls Club/Girls Inc. is located on a one-way side street in downtown Waterbury– a block that's half residential and half commercial, with a few lawyers' offices. It's on the same block as the Y, a museum, and within walking distance of the library and several parks.
Ah yes, imagine the awkward-cuteness of a pre-teen Allie. The Girls' Club was around the block from my mom's shop and, being a working mom, it was very convenient– my siblings and I also went to nursery school at the YMCA, which is on the same block as the Girls' Club, and from time to time, went to art classes at the Mattatuck Museum, ditto.
Mind you, we lived in podunk Burlington, across the street from protected watershed forest. So it wasn't like I needed to spend my summers in the great outdoors, because that's where I lived. But I have always felt like I half-grew-up in Waterbury because we spent so much time there as kids. It's also why I am not afraid of cities like Hartford and Bridgeport that scare the alligators off the polos of my suburban peers. But I digress.
Image (c) Lataz34
My little campmates and I ran around in the gymnasium, did arts and crafts, went on field trips to state parks, made MILES of lanyards (which we called gimp– you might know it as boondoggle), and played a card game called Spit. We played a LOT of Spit– we had Spit tournaments.
Camp was also where I was first introduced to punk rock (OK, so it was The Offspring, give me a break!) and the music of Tori Amos, thanks to my friend, Katie S.
We made up dance routines, sang repetitve songs in school buses, ate dozens of brightly colored frozen desserts, and played Marco Polo in manmade lakes.
And then we became teenagers and stopped going to summer camp.
It's about 20 years since I was a camper.
It's also the 150th anniversary of the Waterbury Girls' Club– now Girls Inc. of Southwestern Connecticut. My little Girls' Club was the first one EVER! And they've been located at 35 Park Place for over 100 years.
Image via Historic Buildings of Connecticut
But the foundation that owns their building wants to sell, and has put the property out to bid. All the other bidders intend to take down the gymnasium and the original historic house, most likely to create a parking lot.
Girls Inc. has also entered a bid, and has the backing of the Connecticut Historical Society. They are also looking for the support of parents of current members and, more importantly, generations of alumnae whose lives were impacted by being a Girls' Club Girl.
I will be penning a letter of support, and helping with a social media campaign to try to convince the Leavenworth Foundation to accept Girls Inc's bid and keep the facility open and accessible to the girls of Waterbury– and girls from the suburbs whose parents work in town and have the foresight to put their kid in contact with diverse new friends.
It's important not just for the sake of nostalgia and warm-fuzzies, but because young girls benefit immensely from gender-specific programs, a safe, fun place where they can learn and play and gain confidence. And it's important that Girls Inc. has a home in downtown Waterbury so that low-income girls from around the city can get there safely and conveniently for after-school programs and summer camp.
If you were a Girls' Club Girl in Waterbury, or anywhere else…
If your daughters or neices were or are Girls' Club Girls…
If you or your girls were Girl Scouts or benefitted from other gender-specific programs…
Or if you're a feminist, humanist, womanist, or other sane person that cares about girls in Waterbury or anywhere else…
Please consider writing a letter of support and/or an op-ed to keep Girls Inc. on Park Place in Waterbury, Connecticut.
Elisha Leavenworth Foundation
P.O. Box 1032
Middlebury, CT 06762
Girls Inc. of SWCT
35 Park Place
Waterbury, CT 06702
Image via Girls Inc. SWCT