Camp CEO: Forging connections between industry leaders and Girl Scouts

Each September at Camp Hawthorn Hollow in Southwest Michigan, there’s an interesting accompaniment to traditional Girl Scout camp activities. Sure, archery, hiking, and making s’mores are still part of the mix, but during this weekend — dubbed Camp CEO — the young women are matched with female mentors to make connections and gain insight into what it takes to become a leader.
 
The mentor-mentee matches spend an entire Saturday together, getting to know each other, participating in leadership and team-building activities, and listening to presentations on topics like “dress for success”, “finding a passion”, or “professional etiquette”.
 
The ultimate purpose of Camp CEO, according to Tiffiny Griffin, deputy chief program officer of Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan (GSSEM), is to give girls the opportunity to “meet women who will help them along their paths to their chosen careers after they’ve graduated from high school.”
 
The mentors, who have achieved laudable success in their various careers, come from a wide range of companies and institutions, but their commonality is strong leadership in their fields of interest, whether that be medicine, higher education, or major sports.
 
To participate in the camp, the girls must be in grades 8 to 12, attending middle or high school, and involved in Girl Scouts through the GSSEM council. The council covers Oakland, Macomb, St. Clair, Genesee, Lapeer, and Sanilac counties and parts of Wayne, Monroe, and Livingston counties. Any Girl Scout who wants to participate is welcome to attend Camp CEO and in September of this year, the camp hosted 18 girls and 18 mentors. In 2019, there were 25 pairs. The girls stay at camp from Friday through Sunday, with the mentors overlapping on Saturday.
 
Encouraging frank conversations
 
For 15-year-old Mariah Donalson, paired with businesswoman Rachel Kennedy, the best part of Camp CEO is the kinship – the one-on-one time with her mentor. “We talked about what she does, what it’s like to own your own business, and how to start on the right path,” says Donalson. “I learned a lot from her about budgeting. I liked how she broke it down for me.”
 
Kennedy, who owns an accounting and bookkeeping business, exchanged numbers with Donalson, and they still keep in touch. GSSEM makes sure parents are comfortable with sharing contact information, as they want the mentorships to continue beyond the one-day experience.
 
During Camp CEO, each mentor-mentee match creates arts and crafts, shares meals, and participates in problem-solving and team-building exercises – all together as a pair.
 
At the end of the day, Camp CEO hosts a mocktails reception so the girls have an opportunity to meet other mentors. Arranged like a speed-meeting session, “it was a fun way for the girls to get to know some of the other mentors, and give them an opportunity to meet all types of women in different fields and who have had different opportunities,” says Griffin.
 
Exposing girls to real-life role models
 
Mia McNeil-Leonard, director of government and community relations at the University of Michigan-Flint, was a first-time mentor at Camp CEO in September. She says that exposure is a major benefit of the experience for girls.
 
“Oftentimes women are marginalized and pigeonholed in particular roles. In this space, the girls get to meet and talk to women at the top of their industries of all ages and ethnicities,” says McNeil-Leonard. “For them, I would imagine that it provides a benchmark of what the future could look like for them.”
 
Simply being present with the mentees, listening, and opening up for questions make the mentor experience unusually impactful.
 
“It’s not often young ladies get a chance to ask questions of women of this caliber and get straight answers about things,” says McNeil-Leonard. “It’s one thing to hear as a young girl that you can do something, but it’s another for a young girl to see someone who has done it and can share with them the dos and don’ts, benefits and pitfalls, and failures and successes.”
 
McNeil-Leonard is a GSSEM board member, but had not attended a Girl Scout camp before. She found it beautifully maintained and peaceful, and thought the experience was well-organized by GSSEM staff. She says she “had a ball” and hopes to participate again in the future, encouraging more young women along their paths to success.
 
She and her mentee have kept in touch and talk once or twice a month to check in about school and life. They are attending a cooking demonstration together this month, as her mentee’s dream is to be a world-class chef.
 
Supporting higher awards
 
Another benefit of Camp CEO is that it supports older girl programming specific to Girl Scouts working on a higher award: Bronze Award (grades 4-5), Silver Award (grades 6-8), and Gold Award (grades 9-12).
 
In 2021, all of the girls who attended the camp were working on their Gold Award, the highest Girl Scout achievement possible.  To earn the Gold Award, Girl Scouts must dedicate at least 80 hours to finding the root cause of an issue and creating a sustainable solution to address it. They must manage all aspects of the project including fundraising, building and engaging their professional and personal networks, and team leadership.
 
Hosting Mentoring Mondays
 
Career mentorship, learning, and support are offered in other ways too by GSSEM. Beyond the one-on-one experience of Camp CEO, the council offers a remote program via Zoom called Mentoring Mondays. A female mentor is brought on from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and the girls can ask questions during the hour-long session.
 
Judges, attorneys, correctional officers, veterinarians, and physicians have been part of the mix. An ophthalmologist talked with the girls online while showing them around her office and explaining the equipment. A police officer took (off-duty) calls on Mentoring Mondays from her squad car.
 
GSSEM staff asks Girl Scouts who they are interested in learning from and then builds a roster of professionals from there. Participation varies from 10 girls to more than 60, depending on the speaker. Mentoring Mondays reinforce messages of leadership. “It’s all about helping the girls become leaders of their own lives,” says Griffin.
 
You can help give more southeast Michigan girls opportunities to participate in Camp CEO. Camp CEO volunteer mentor and corporate and individual sponsorships are available. Email Tiffiny Griffin at [email protected] for more information and how to get started.