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Girls Rock Charleston raises funds and awareness

The Girls get loud

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Girls Rock!, a documentary about a grassroots girls rock camp in Portland, Ore., starts off with a scene where campers — ages eight to 18 — form a circle and scream, one-by-one. The scene is telling. For some, the belting and shrieking is difficult. But if a person wants to be a rock star, one thing is certain: They must learn how to raise their voice.

There are Girls Rock camps worldwide. And now, Girls Rock is coming to Charleston. The local chapter founders — Jenna Lyles, Sarah Bandy, Kim Larson, Gracie Aghapour, Emily Connor, and Savannah Brennan — have been working for five months to make the camp a reality.

After the community art and music center Outer Space closed its doors on Meeting Street last year, the six founders — all of whom were involved in the center — thought to themselves, "What's next?"

Larson had a magical experience volunteering at Girls Rock camps in New York City and Murfreesboro, Tenn. Bandy had volunteered in Murfreesboro, the Bay Area, and Austin. While the group was brainstorming ideas for things to help their community, it dawned on them to start a Girls Rock camp in Charleston at Ashley Hall.

"It all seemed innocent enough until we were starting a nonprofit," Lyles says.

Campers don't need musical experience to apply. But throughout the five days of camp, they will form bands, learn to play instruments, and write their own songs. Every day, there'll be workshops on topics ranging from self defense and how to make band merchandise to the history of women in rock 'n' roll. The purpose of the camp is to teach the girls self confidence, acceptance, and community, by way of learning rock 'n' roll.

According to Lyles and Aghapour, campers will be taught stage presence (to be seen and heard) when socially conservative gender roles often pressure women to be slightly more demure. Nothing says empowerment like a 9-year-old girl playing "I Wanna Be Your Dog" like Iggy Pop.

At camp, the girls are encouraged to not say, "I'm sorry." Instead, they must replace the phrase, so often overused as a by-product of low self-esteem, with the affirmation, "I rock!"

"We believe on a daily basis, especially in relationship to music, that women have a different experience than men," Aghapour says.

The founders want participants to leave camp feeling proud to be girls, but with a new way to express their feelings in a positive way. According to Lyles, every girl will express their "girl-ness" differently.

Fundraising has been an obstacle. They need money to rent and buy instruments, to provide scholarships, and get supplies for workshops.

The camp hosted a benefit auction at Saffron last month. They're raising grant money through the Kickstarter pledge program until June 15.

The Girls Rock 2011 experience concludes with a showcase at the Music Farm on July 23. As the culmination of camp, the campers will perform in front of family and friends the song they wrote with their band.

"We are trying to make creativity and girl empowerment part of the Charleston community for the long term," Lyles says, "so that Girls Rock Charleston will be here to stay."

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