Since coming to South Dakota in early 1880, the Presentation Sisters have been dedicated to education ministry. In 1996, sparked by one of their partners, the Sisters continued this commitment by educating junior high girls in a new way, through a leadership camp.
Junior high can be a challenging time for many young women. Often girls, who are at the top of their class in elementary grades, fall back in junior high. Peer and cultural pressures from television, social media, advertising and peers bombard girls from all sides telling them how to act, how to look and what to want. The Sisters could see the need for young girls to discover their own inner strength based on Christian values.
In response to this need, the Presentation Sisters and their volunteer partners developed the Leadership Camp for junior high girls. The camp has been going strong for over two decades and is held at Storm Mountain in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota.
The week-long camp provides a concentrated time where the Sisters and partners create a positive faith-filled environment which, by the grace of God, does have a lasting impact on the campers given its short duration. The girls experience how much better their lives are when they are respectful and are respected. The camp seeks to augment parental efforts in their quest to provide a supportive environment for their daughters to reach full maturity physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Each morning and evening the campers gather to reflect and pray. The campers see young counselors who have chosen to make their relationship with God a priority. They see the difference this relationship with God makes and they desire this for themselves. Based on the campers’ own words, fostering a closer relationship with God is one of their most influential experiences, in part because they can express this desire openly with each other.
The structure of the camp provides the opportunity for campers to meet new friends through small groups and cabin groups. We know that some of these new bonds have become lifelong friendships. These connections between campers and junior counselors give the girls the support they need to live by their Christian values.
Over 1,500 girls have attended the Presentation Sisters Leadership Camp. Since girls are eligible to attend as they enter 7th, 8th and 9th grades, some attend Leadership Camp two or three times.
The success of the Leadership Camp in the Black Hills led the Sisters to begin another camp in 2007. Leading Individuals, Voicing Equality (L.I.V.E.) Leadership Camp, held in the community of Omaha, NE, is for junior high Latina girls.
This camp is an important tool to encourage Latinas to seek higher education, build their self-esteem and provide a proactive reflection on their lives. Latinas age 11 to 15 learn that working hard and making good decisions will provide a better future for themselves and their loved ones. They are encouraged to become leaders in serving their community as volunteers.
Latinas are a strong and viable force in the greater Omaha community. One of their strong values is the family. We seek to provide the opportunity for young Latinas to become their best selves through education, sports, health and Christian values. Strong Latino families strengthen our cities making our country and world a better place to live.
This camp is a way for Latina college age junior counselors and adult Latina speakers and counselors to describe and model how higher education has opened doors into a brighter future. A strong emphasis on self-esteem is a theme throughout the week. It is hoped that these opportunities, as well as forming good friendships, will help the girls avoid destructive influences such as alcohol, tobacco, other drugs, gang involvement, premature sexual activity and other risky behaviors.
L.I.V.E. Leadership Camp offers sessions on setting goals and team building. The girls become a great support for one another. Young adult Latinas who volunteer as junior counselors receive dynamic leadership skill-building which they put into practice as mentors in small and large group activities. This is an additional way that young campers can continue developing leadership skills through the college age years!
Both the Leadership and L.I.V.E. Camps have also included collaboration with Sisters from other congregations as well. Even when these two Camps are over, the Sisters keep in contact with these campers throughout the year via newsletters, emails and Facebook. Follow-up gatherings are offered to encourage the girls to continue the leadership skills they learned at camp. As the girls get older, they are invited to partake in expanded high school youth ministries such as our annual Called to Serve Retreats and Live Out Loud Retreats. Both service based, Called to Serve and Live Out Loud offer opportunities for these former campers to reconnect as high-school-aged women as they volunteer alongside the Presentation Sisters partaking in service activities, prayer, sharing and opportunities to deepen their faith.