I believe Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” sounded from speakers in the dining hall on a Friday night at on the campus of Boys & Girls Town Missouri. I believe at that time, I was barefoot, wearing shorts, a trendy top and a hot pink, inflatable swim ring around my middle – a dancing fool with at least 50 other women on the dance floor at the slumber party for the Changing Prisms program. And then, two young women came from out of the blue and asked, “Are you Alec’s mom?”
My cover was blown. They had already text-messaged my son (whom they work with at a camp for children nearby) about my way cool dance moves and ability to jump higher than the crowd several times in a row. They probably had taken photos of me in midair, bumping into girls and making them laugh.
The party occurred in the middle of 33 hours spent with at least 100 women in this program that rips you apart and builds you back up. Designed by Judy Hillyer, director of advancement for Great Circle agencies, Changing Prisms is an annual workshop that focuses specifically on the needs of young women between the ages of 13 and 18, most of whom have experienced abuse, neglect and trauma. Changing Prisms helps these young women deal with their feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, depression and anxiety through activities and workshops designed to help improve their confidence and self-esteem. Judy asked me to come on board three years ago as a mentor.
Judy has the ability to find the right women at the right time to do the right thing, as she so often says. For example, our group’s therapist Katy Gray works in Springfield, Mo., in the residential facility there and gave up her days off to volunteer her time to be with us. Katy proved her worth again and again so that the group could move ahead with its task at hand, whether it was learning a dance, building a construction project to symbolize the past and future or use the special glitter markers (when there were only two and we needed three!). Or Clemmie and Regina, from the Magdalene House in Nashville, who got bumped off three flights (thanks, Delta) yet still managed to get to the program in time to work with the girls. Clemmie and Regina, who grew up on the streets, who turned to drugs and prostitution to survive and who eventually learned to trust and to respect themselves after graduating from the Magdalene program. They show the girls that it is possible to move forward and the sooner, the better.
While the girls worked on their projects, I revisited what it was like at that age – tough enough at times, except I had two parents who would drop anything, anytime, so that they could pick me up and help me out. I had a support network of family, teachers, a minister, relatives. I can’t even count how many people were there for me.
As luck and coincidence would have it, Terri Lee Pocernich, proprietor of Camp Wild Girls, stopped in and spent a night here with us in Missouri last week on her way home to Wisconsin from Louisiana. Her plans for the weekend included participating in a camp run by Kicking Bear – where kids from broken homes and/or who are neglected get an opportunity not only to spend time at camp learning bowhunting, but also, get paired up with a mentor in their communities after the camp experience.
Part of being a mentor meant telling the girls about my job, my expectations, three good reasons to get into an intimate relationship and other things. At first, they thought being an outdoors-related writer was odd, but cool. Then, they asked some questions about it, and now, I think they believe that being a writer, editor, photographer is attainable. You know, that “if she can do it, I can do it” theory.
What did I learn? I learned not to “Fake the funk.” We learn positive chants that we use every year at the program. One is when someone yells, “Beautiful!” And the group responds, “You must be talkin’ to me!”
If you “fake the funk,” you’re not being real. Someone yells “I will not!” And the group responds “Fake the funk.”
And this fact got reaffirmed to me: that kids don’t expect perfect people in their lives. They just want people they can trust …. you know, the ones that don’t fake the funk. ~ Barbara Baird