By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Some female business leaders from the Washington region traded their BlackBerrys and business suits for bug repellent and song books last week.
Instead of heading to work, the women headed to camp to mentor area Girl Scouts and give them a glimpse of life in corporate America.
"This provides a wonderful interaction with the girls and it's important they stay connected to women in the community," said camp participant and Henlee Group founder Pat Henriques. The glass ceiling that hinders women in the work world "has not been shattered. It may have a few cracks in it, but it's not yet broken; women have to help each other."
Henriques was one of 30 career women who stayed at the camp with about 30 Girl Scouts from Northern Virginia, Washington and Maryland at the 12th annual Camp CEO, hosted by the Girl Scout Council of the Nation's Capital.
The program, which took place at Camp Coles Trip in Stafford County, provides Girl Scouts with a chance to participate in traditional camp activities while networking with and getting career advice from women in power in the Washington area.
"This camp is really something special because of the awesome CEOs we get to meet," said Fairfax High School student Colleen Duda, 16. "They have really great stories to tell, and it's neat to hear how they worked through the downs in life to get to where they are today."
The women at camp included chief executives, law firm partners, judges, doctors and entrepreneurs. Howard University's senior vice president and a chef who once cooked for Julia Child also attended the camp. The professionals taught the 13- to 17-year-old girls lessons on leadership, teamwork, persistence and confidence.
"This camp is different because it's not just fun, but it's also helping you plan your future," said 15-year-old Kristina Chin of Prince George's County. "The message I will remember is there will be struggles, but even if it seems everything is going downhill, there is always an upside."
Osbourn Park High School student Katrina Chu, 16, said she, too, was impressed with the journey many of the women had taken. Although Chu said it was her mother who originally wanted her to attend camp, by the end she was glad she did.
"If I would have known more about it and who I would get to meet, I would have definitely been more interested," she said. "It was cool to hear how these women had to go through so much to get to where they are today and are now just so happy."
The Girl Scouts were not the only ones who learned a thing or two at camp. Many of the professionals spent time earning their Girl Scout badges by formulating rap songs, reading poems and interacting with the girls -- potential future leaders of America, they said.
"It's important we understand and learn what the youth are thinking because they are our future," said Shirley Edwards, a partner in Ernst & Young and Montgomery County resident. "Some of these kids are absolutely incredible."
Although each of the five days consisted of at least one lecture-style session with the professionals, traditional camp activities were never lacking. The Girl Scouts, along with the women, spent their time kayaking, making crafts and participating in their newly created sport of synchronized chair aerobics -- plopping themselves out in Aquia Creek and performing routines without ever leaving the comfort of their cushy seats.
And, of course, no Girl Scout camp would be complete without song. Each day was like living in the movie "High School Musical," with a song for every occasion.
At night, the girls settled into open-air shelters, sleeping in a cocoonlike mosquito net and cot.
"We don't mind them," Duda said of the sleeping arrangements, adding that only once did someone in her hut find a bug in her pants while getting ready for bed.
The Girl Scout Council of the Nation's Capital serves more than 60,000 girls in Northern Virginia, Washington and Maryland. The council owns eight campsites in the area, including the roughly 220-acre Coles Trip, along Aquia Creek, said the organization's spokeswoman, Nancy Wood.
The council's executive director, Jan Verhage, said she founded Camp CEO, which is open on a first-come, first-served basis, to create a platform for Girl Scouts to connect with local professionals. She said she wants Girl Scouts to see they can do anything and know they have a partner in the business community.
"I know I can contact any of these CEOs, and if I ever need advice, they will be there," Duda said. "Some of the CEOs wanted to become Facebook friends, which I thought was so cool. . . . They are all very inspiring, and I will definitely keep in touch."