‘It Truly Helps Me to Be the Best That I Can’, Camp LiveGirl a Success for a Third Summer

It’s 9:30 am, and 100 middle school girls are gathered in the auditorium at New Canaan High School. Each wears a lime green T-shirt emblazoned with the affirmation, “I am smart. I am strong. I am special.”

At Camp LiveGirl, these are the words to live by.

The campers, girls going into grades 6 through 9, enjoy a full week of bonding and leadership training. At Camp LiveGirl, each day has a theme. Day one taught the girls to be themselves, and day two encouraged them to be brave. Now, on day three—Wednesday, July 26—keynote speaker Kate Vanek stands above a sign that reads “Be Kind.” Poised and polished, Vanek is the Senior Vice President of Finance at Nielson Company.

“Rock your smart,” Vanek told the girls. “Find what interests you, and pursue it.”

“My personal goal is to have one of these girls become our future president,” said LiveGirl founder Sheri West, and it’s clear she expects the statement to come true.

West started LiveGirl, which offers year-round after school workshops and monthly leadership summits in addition to the summer camp, after spending 15 years at General Electric. “While I was at GE, I was highly involved in their Women’s Network, which is their program to have the more senior accomplished women mentor the younger professionals. That’s really when I learned the value or role modelling and mentoring,” West said. “I decided to create LiveGirl to really pay it forward to the next generation of female leaders. We focus on middle school because it’s such a challenging time, especially for girls. They face the pressures of adolescence, which are  amplified by social media, so I think it’s tougher than ever. To have this safe space where they can go after school with girls who are going through the same things.”

For the campers, having a space where they are exposed to possibility without regard to preconceived notions of gender is priceless. Camper Neya Krishnan, a rising 9th grader from New Canaan, is taking part for a second summer and describes the experience as “empowering”. “It truly helps me to be the best that I can,” Krishnan said, “It’s helped me become a leader. For girls thinking about coming to LiveGirl, do it. It’s the best place to build your confidence and find a community.”

Adds camper Kiera Mastey, whose family rescheduled their summer vacation simply so she could attend the camp, “I’ve met so many people from so many different towns. We’re different in so many ways, but we are still going through a lot of the same stuff. We’re just girls trying to make it through middle school.”

In addition to empowering and inspiring campers, LiveGirl also aims to allow the girls to just plain have fun. Mastey recounted the previous day, where Summer Theatre of New Canaan taught campers some songs and accompanying dance moves from their current production, Singin’ in the Rain. “After that,” Mastey said, “all of us girls were just singing and dancing together.”

Camp LiveGirl has just as powerful an effect on the twenty high school girls who serve as mentors. Amelia Wyckoff, a New Canaan resident and  rising senior at St. Luke’s School, told NewCanaanite, “I love that we create such a positive space. There are a lot of organizations that become really political, but what LiveGirl does is create a space for these girls to be themselves and be silly and just have fun.”

Though the camp ended Friday, West stressed that LiveGirl is a resource for girls year-round. “This past school year we had 378 girls enrolled in our LiveGirl talk, which is after school mentoring and monthly leadership summits,” she said. West said she hopes that participation in this program as a middle schooler will instill in girls a desire to pay it forward. “All our programming is geared towards the middle school girl, and as she gets into high school she loops back around to become a mentor and counselor, so they can share their talents, whether it be writing or photography or leadership. Part of it is putting these smart girls to work.


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