Danville Express

Living - August 31, 2007

Camp CEO

Execs team up with teens to share valuable skills

by Natalie O'Neill

They have seen more handguns than horses. They have thrown more punches than sweet sixteens.

Teenage girls in rough parts of Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco are geographically just a couple of gas-gallons away from Danville. But in these sometimes threatening urban environments, their lifestyles are a vast stretch from the suburbs, says mentor Robin MacGillivray.

That's why the Danville executive began Girl Scout's Camp CEO four years ago - to give teenagers who have grown up in these shaky places a long weekend in a positive, supportive environment.

The camp pairs the high school girls with high-up female executives from the Bay Area to teach them the skills to be successful in life and the professional world. The lessons are taught using fun outdoor activities.

"Their environments can be very scary, violent and threatening. We thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to give them positive role models?''' said MacGillivray.

The executives teach teenage girls how to set goals, problem solve and work as a team, using rock-climbing, horseback riding and high ropes courses.

One girl, who had never been on a horse, was terribly frightened and couldn't get past her fear, MacGillivray remembered. But then the two began brainstorming about what might make her feel more comfortable and confident.

"She said, 'I think I can do it if you walk beside me,'" MacGillivray said. And with a mentor by her side, she was able to do it.

"It was a really triumphant moment for her," she said.

Think this has nothing to do with the professional world? Think again.

These are just the type of problem solving and communication skills that are crucial to succeeding in a career, said MacGillivray, who is the president of Business Communication Services for AT&T West.

Another girl conquered her fear of heights by planning a strategy around climbing a telephone-pole sized structure. Others set goals, using an artificial rock climbing wall.

At Camp CEO, positive encouragement is the name of the game.

"We tell them, 'Don't think you can't succeed - because you can!'" MacGillivray said.

For some of these girls, who have low expectations for themselves, a little support can go a long way, she said.

The 40 chosen to take part in the sleep-away camp have shown potential at their schools but tend to lack the opportunity or the motivation. They just need a little extra "something," she said.

"They just need a nudge," she explained.

Since high school "shining stars" usually already have a strong support group, mentors don't invite the girls who are already excelling to the camp.

In the same light, they don't choose the girls with behavioral or social issues - just the ones who are on the fence. The ones with potential.

Aside from physical activities, the adults had a chance to bond with the girls while beading. It was a quiet time that prompted intimate conversations, and the teens opened up about their lives.

Girls would ask the executives questions about jobs and college and would tell them about school, family and friends.

"I was surprised to hear how much violence is in their schools," MacGillivray said.

The executives were trained to not take on the position of a social worker or a therapist - but to just listen. They were, however, a wealth of knowledge when it came to choosing careers.

"Robin is very high up (professionally) and she's very well versed in business," said Jamie Fishler, who does public relations for Girl Scouts.

Most of the time, however, the girls didn't ask for specific recommendations on how to get into job fields but explored possibilities for what careers would be the best for them and why.

Much of the time was spent just talking to them about their interests and passions. Some of the girls were in foster care and on the brink of being set out into the job field on their own - with no family safety net.

"It was weighing on their minds," MacGillivray said.

The girls taught the executives a thing or two, as well - about what it's like to be a teenager in 2007.

"I don't have any daughters, so this is my opportunity to hang out with teenage girls," said MacGillivray, who is 50-ish.

When it comes to giving advice on how to climb the corporate ladder or gain success in the professional world, MacGillivray shies away from offering any particular plan of action.

In her mind, the definition of "successful" has more to do with the "wholeness of your life" than the title of your job, she says.

"I always tell people that the main thing is to keep the 'main thing' the main thing," she said.

A weekend away in an encouraging outdoor environment is just one important "nudge" toward that success, she said.


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