Girls Rock NC uses music to build character

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — As a sixth grader in Reidsville, Amelia Shull wanted to play drums in the music program at her middle school. But because her parents could not afford to buy a drum set, Shull ended up playing the flute, thanks to a donor who contributed one to the school.

“Although I was a kid who couldn’t afford an instrument, I was given an opportunity to be part of the orchestra,” says Shull, Upper School visual arts teacher at Carolina Friends School in Durham.

For the past 10 years, through Girls Rock NC, a Durham nonprofit she founded and co-chairs, Shull has worked to give girls a chance to experience the joy of music she discovered through her parents, who are songwriters and folk musicians.

Operating with an annual budget of $65,000, most of it generated from tuition of $325 per camper, Girls Rock NC has provided a summer camp for well over 1,000 girls, along with an after-school program it launched in 2011.

The summer camp has expanded from Durham to include sites in Raleigh and Chatham County.

Girls Rock NC is one of 43 independent programs that are part of The Girls Rock Camp Alliance, an international coalition of organizations that use music education to empower girls and women and to foster self-esteem and confidence.

The local group focuses on “encouraging girls to use their own voices,” says Shull, who as an 10th grader, confined to a wheel chair for several months after breaking her pelvis in a car accident, “recognized that, when you have strong feelings, when you’re hurting, when you’re trying to find a way to connect, music was the place that felt the most powerful.”

Girls Rock NC offers two summer camp sessions of one week each at Saint Mary’s School in Raleigh, Triangle Music School in Durham and Woods Charter School in Chatham County.

Each session has room for 40 girls, with the first session for girls age seven to 10, and the second session for girls age 11 to 15.

In May, Girls Rock NC will hold an overnight weekend program for 12 to 15 women age 18 and older at The Stone House that will culminate with a performance.

Girls Rock NC provides instruments for girls who need them, and adults from a corps of nearly 100 volunteers lead sessions on a broad range of topics, including forming and naming a band, writing music and lyrics for songs, and performing.

With women who work at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke, the girls also make zines, or magazines without ads.

They create their own t-shirts and other apparel; study dance, stage presence, yoga and “body confidence;” learn about self-defense, making choices, and team-building; and work to develop skills in media literacy so they can “be critical thinkers when viewing images of girls on TV and in the media,” Shull says.

The after-school program, held once a week for 10 weeks at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro and at Hayti Heritage Center in Durham for 12 girls each, focuses mainly on helping girls develop skills as musicians.

Girls Rock NC, which in January hired its first paid staff, including a full-time director of operations and a part-time program director, also in December held its first fundraising  appeal, generating $6,000.

It plans to hold a social-media “crowdfunding” campaign this spring, is looking for sponsorships and scholarship support, will partner with the mother of a former camper who this summer plans to launch a Girls Rock camp in Charlotte, and in October will hold a 10th anniversary Community Girls Rock Fest at The ArtsCenter and Cat’s Cradle, both in Carrboro.

“We just want to be sure that every kid gets to have the experience of exploring creative outlets for expression,” says Shull, whose seven-year-old daughter will be eligible for the first time this summer to attend Girls Rock NC camp.

“She wants to sign up,” Shull says, “and play, no surprise, the drums.”

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