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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Gainesville Girls Rock Camp creates a safe space for girls and gender-expansive youth

The nonprofit organization uses music, art and creative expression to amplify the voices of marginalized gender groups

Gainesville Girls Rock Camp is a nonprofit organization that uses music, art and creative expression to amplify the voices of marginalized gender groups. (Courtesy to The Alligator)
Gainesville Girls Rock Camp is a nonprofit organization that uses music, art and creative expression to amplify the voices of marginalized gender groups. (Courtesy to The Alligator)

After the COVID-19 pandemic turned down the volume on live-music events last year, Gainesville Girls Rock Camp (GGRC) will be jamming out in person for its 2021 summer session.

The week-long camp, held from July 26 to July 31, is dedicated to teaching regional youths ages 10-17 how to play instruments individually and together in bands. As a chapter of the international Girls Rock Camp Alliance, GGRC actively works to dismantle racism, sexism, homophobia and other discriminatory behaviors and expressions.

On Saturday, GGRC accepted an arts award from the city of Gainesville. Mayor Lauren Poe also gave a proclamation that May 15 is Gainesville Girls Rock Camp Day. 

GGRC is run entirely by womxn and gender-expansive volunteers in Gainesville – many of whom are artists, entertainers, teachers and service industry workers. Womxn is an alternative spelling used for the inclusivity of trans and non-binary women. These camp counselors and faculty help each band of young musicians write a song to perform for their friends and families at a live music venue downtown.

Co-directors Jennifer Vito and Coral Smith said they work to “curate a transformative environment” through activities, language, communication and training.  

“Creating that camp culture together is the foundation by which our creative education programs work to change lives and enrich communities,” they wrote in an email.

Formed in 2013, the nonprofit organization is dedicated to being an ally and avid supporter of womxn, transgender individuals, gender-expansive and non-binary community members. 

“Our campers and volunteers are doing work together emotionally, socially and physically (playing, sweating, building new muscles and calluses),” they said. “They are dismantling oppressive baggage and forging supportive relationships and communication tools while working towards a high-stakes shared goal.”

In addition to GGRC’s dedication to fighting gender discrimination, the organization stands in solidarity with the BLM movement. In its Amplify Voices newsletter, the Girls Rock Camp Alliance provides its members with a private virtual space to find and share racial equity resources, such as anti-racism resources for adults and youth. 

Dee Collins, a volunteer drum teacher, band leader, and personal instructor at GGRC, said the organization’s work is certainly impactful. 

“The GGRC is great for the community,” Collins said. “It allows access to a safe space and musical learning environment that may not be readily accessible to everyone. Being a part of the program was a rewarding experience, and I can’t wait to do it again this year.”

Last summer, GGRC was held virtually due to the pandemic. Vito said although it was a lot of digital labor, it was a “uniquely touching experience.” 

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“We had to figure out a new way to create that magic environment and momentum--virtually” Vito said.

GGRC produced multiple video series for workshops, lessons and performances. To keep the community connected, the organization launched a YouTube channel to share videos with kids worldwide; produced live streams for concerts and events; and held camp Zoom sessions with a live/virtual finale "sharecase" instead of a traditional band showcase.

“The positive part of going virtual was being accessible to host youth and artists/leaders from outside of Gainesville, and learning new tools to open up more programming opportunities throughout the year,” Vito and Smith said.

Being a nonprofit run by volunteer workers, GGRC faced a financial impact when the pandemic hit. Vito said their fundraising and sustainability faced major losses.

 “Our volunteer-base was hit hard as many of them were performers, service industry workers, and teachers,” Vito said. “We had to work even harder and get even more creative to keep the organization afloat and find a way to support our campers and community during an especially difficult time for everyone.”

In order to provide full and partial scholarships to campers who can not afford to pay tuition, GGRC relies on fundraising and donations. They frequently partner with High Dive, Satch Squared, Flacos and Opus Coffee to receive funding. 

With their summer session right around the corner, GGRC plans to provide campers with a safe and fun way to get back into the groove of in-person music events.

“Returning to in-person is something we’ve been carefully organizing, and it feels hopeful,” Vito and Smith said. “We’ve put a lot of work into safety protocols, including but not limited to things such as smaller class sizes, masks, sanitation for gear, and a fully vaccinated staff.”

Ensuring campers leave with more than the skill of playing an instrument is GGRC’s main goal.

“I hope campers always take home a foundational empowerment - to learn to lead, to enact change, to connect with others and to believe in themselves - in all the things they do next,” they said

GGRC is accepting volunteer and camper applications until June 7th. The camp’s information, including fundraising events and donation opportunities, can be found on their website, Instagram and Facebook page.

Contact and Follow Brenna Sheets on Twitter @BrennaMarieShe1.

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