DUMMERSTON—“About 12 girls got to come to camp this year who couldn’t otherwise,” said Green Mountain Camp for Girls (GMC) Director Billie Slade.
What made this possible was a $3,202 donation from the Eileen Fisher Company Store in Manchester, which the camp received in the spring.
This is the first time GMC has received a donation from the company, Slade said, and it happened through an employee at the store whose daughter attended the camp.
“She loved the mission — to empower girls,” Slade said, and recommended the Eileen Fisher company contribute to GMC.
“We’re proud to support the Green Mountain Camp for Girls, and happy to be making a difference in the lives of girls in rural Vermont,” said Eileen Fisher Store Leader Lana Prouty in a news release.
Slade said she and other camp officials told company representatives, “the most pressing need is scholarships for girls whose families can’t afford it.” In 2015, GMC gave $17,000 in scholarships to 71 deserving girls and didn’t turn away a single camper, according to the camp’s news release.
When the scholarship money runs out, “we have angels in the community who step in” if a girl applies who needs financial assistance, Slade said.
“Every girl who wants to be here should have that experience,” Slade said.
And Slade should know.
“I was one of those campers,” she said, noting that “from the age of 7 until my college years, this was my happy place."
Being at home was sometimes a little more stressful. “I was the oldest of six kids, and my family couldn’t afford” to send her to camp, Slade said. But her pediatrician recommended Slade to the camp’s directors, and “they reached out to my family."
“I hated to leave” when the session was over, Slade said.
But she did.
And then she kept coming back.
GMC’s Music Director “Cathy [Martin] and I started here together as counselors-in-training,” Slade said, “and now we’re almost 60 and we’re still here together!” Another of Slade’s former fellow-campers, and lifelong friend, Barb Dewey was the camp nurse a few years ago, too. Many friendships formed at camp never end, Slade said.
“The seeds of social justice were planted in me,” at GMC, Slade said. “I’m from Jamaica, a very homogenous place. I was bunkmates with all kinds of kids, including Fresh Air Fund Kids,” she said, noting the lasting impression made on girls by sleeping under the same roof with peers from very different backgrounds.
A lasting legacy and a different culture
Slade expressed pride in and dedication to GMC’s goals: to provide “old-fashioned, carefree childhood fun” to girls.
For some girls in challenging family situations, coming to camp offers a break from responsibilities. Slade said this is why social workers with agencies such as the Department for Children and Families and Health Care Rehabilitation & Services advocate for girls to attend the camp.
A close parallel can be drawn between the reasons behind the founding of GMC and the decision of modern-day social service agencies to recommend it to girls in need of respite.
Almost 100 years ago, two 19-year-old friends, Sarah Bradley and Grace Holbrook, started GMC because they “wanted farm girls to go and connect with others and have fun,” Slade said, noting there were “not many breaks” for those farm girls.
The farm girls also had little access to health care, Slade said, and GMC’s on-site nurse could provide some medical attention.
Just as, today, girls from lower-income families pay very little to attend and are supported by scholarships, in the early years of GMC, a farm family might “barter a sack of potatoes or a live chicken” to pay for their girl’s attendance at camp.
A direct line drawn across almost 100 years is the variety of GMC rituals, such as the songs the girls and staff sing — and when and where they sing them.
Slade told a story of a 92-year-old former camper who visited GMC. She walked into the lodge and asked if the girls still sang “Always in the Moonlight” at the end of the night.
When Slade began singing the song, the woman’s eyes started tearing up and she said, “I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, but I remember the words to this song."
Part of GMC’s goal to provide “old-fashioned” fun to girls can be found in its list of prohibited items.
“There are no ‘devices’ beyond that green line” on the driveway, Slade said, pointing out the lack of modern distractions such as cellphones, laptops, and social media at the camp.
“During the interviews, I make that very clear to counselors and counselors-in-training that we need to be present with the kids,” Slade said. “There are no PowerPoint presentations during orientation,” she added.
Because many counselors are former campers, “they already understand the culture,” Slade said.
Another no-no is make-up, she said, pointing out the lack of mirrors in the cabins.
“We want to model that their appearance is not who they are,” Slade said, explaining that rather than demand they conform “to what’s expected of them as females, we give them the opportunity to relax and communicate on a deeper level."