It is okay to know you are not perfect/it is not okay to think that anyone else should be.
The number one thing that makes me mad is this idea that we can divide everything up into two sides. People are not either “good or bad” and teams are not either “great or horrible”… There are ways to settle disputes other than “giving up or going to war.” There is no clear line between “clean air and jobs” because renewable energy projects like wind farms, energy efficiency, and solar energy installations can reduce pollution and create jobs. There are more people who make mistakes than people who never make mistakes, and people who make mistakes are not always bad people. And not everyone who makes a mistake should go to prison.
I learned a lot about this principle when I recently visited one of the most beautiful places on Earth, San Mateo County just south of San Francisco in the great State of California. I was there to take pictures of a solar electricity installation that PG&E had donated to the County of San Mateo. I took the pictures and some of them are posted here. But this is not a school in the traditional sense of a neighborhood public school that PG&E typically gives these pole mounted solar electricity systems that are commonly known as “Solar on a Stick”. I stayed longer to learn more about this special school. There are girls (yes I am calling them girls, but I am tricking you and you will understand this in a minute or two) in the San Mateo Girls’ Camp in San Mateo, California.
It is probably why they call it the “Girls’ Camp.” They also have a “Boys’ Camp.” The Margaret J Kemp Camp for Girls is a place for young women who are not perfect. They are juveniles that might otherwise end up in incarceration. In San Mateo they can end up in this camp. In response to a growing need for female gender-responsive services in the late 1990s, in 2001 the Probation Department launched the GIRLS program (Gaining Independence and Reclaiming Lives Successfully). (see the trick…the word “girls” stands for something else) The program involves three stages: an individualized, 180-day residential program and two community-based supervision phases. The residential program is housed in the Girls’ Camp. To get into the Girls’ Camp, young women in San Mateo who are not perfect have to do imperfect things. When a girl is convicted of one or more criminal offenses, the Juvenile Court can order her to a 190-day stay at Camp Kemp. The girls at the Camp have backgrounds that include one or more of the following characteristics:
- Repeated probation violations
- Multiple runaways from home or placements
- Substance abuse
- Victimization (child abuse or neglect, domestic violence in the home or in a relationship, trauma)
- Emotional issues or mental health diagnoses
Going to this camp does not mean these young women are bad. It just means they need help. It is perfectly acceptable to need help. The wonderful people who run this camp understand this concept. Their mission goes like this, “We believe our adolescent girls are valuable and worthy of our communities’ support. We provide sustainable resources and programs that promote the process of healing, educating, and empowering each girl to achieve her greatest potential in her community.” It is a perfect situation.
In San Mateo we have a few young women who need some assistance. So, the County of San Mateo creates a camp where these young women can get help. The staff is great and the facilities are remarkable. It is like a college campus and the classrooms are like college classrooms. The young women can walk around on the beautiful grounds and there is a gymnasium and there is supervision, but it is subtle. There is security, but I saw no bars on any windows. It seems like a safe place without being stifling. Camp Kemp offers a number of special services and programs:
- Independent Living Program (a weekly class that teaches practical skills such as financial management and decision making)
- The Art of Yoga (yoga practice and art projects, three times per week)
- Girls Circle (a relationship-based communication model that includes group sharing and problem-solving
- “Tool Box” group (discussion group where girls share the challenges and successes of their recent home pass experience)
- Alcoholics Anonymous (on site)
- Play writing
- Field trips
- Book club
Behavioral Health programming includes:
- Comprehensive assessment and case planning
- Multi-Family Group, a 16-week Saturday program that engages parents, caregivers, and girls in improving their relationships
- Individual counseling
- Family therapy
A girl can receive counseling and therapy on a number of issues, depending on her needs as identified in her case plan:
- Anger management
- Impulse control
- Communication skills
- Healthy relationships
- Body image and self-care strategies
- Nutrition and healthy eating
- Safe sex and HIV
- Grief and loss
- Domestic violence and teen dating
- Transition to the community
And the unbelievable people who run this Girls’ Camp (I love saying this because it is one of the few times I can use the word “girls” and not get yelled out for not using the words “young women”) have decided that these young women should learn how to grow flowers, plants and food and to take care of a garden and learn to cook food they grow and to learn to be more sustainable. Toni DeMarco who proposed the garden has a long term vision for the camp and the young women who go through this program. “We believe that, in a general way, the garden will help the women here learn responsibility and it will be therapeutic. We believe that growing food and cooking meals from the garden will help teach them specific skills that they will be able to use in the world outside our camp.” To help them learn science and math skills, the Camp applied to PG&E for a solar electricity system that would be installed on the Camp grounds.
Director Glenda Miller loves the project. “I love the idea of our young women using sunlight to grow food and using sunlight to create electricity and to eventually use solar cooker that PG&E is sending us to use the sun to cook the food they grow in the garden. It is the most basic form of sustainability and yet it can help teach the most complex concepts of math and science. And our young women will be able to say that they generated part of the electricity they are using for their lighting and to power their televisions and computers. How many people can say that? We have great expectations for this project.” Now I cannot suggest that you stop in and visit this camp because it is a secure area. But even if you cannot go there, you can trust me that there are a lot of young women who need a little assistance and who are getting a great deal more.