LOCAL FOLKS: Tupelo teen plans camp for girls

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Messages come from all directions in this media-saturated age, and they’re not always positive.
“It’s really easy in today’s society for girls to feel like they have to live up to a certain bar, a certain expectation,” said Warner Wills King, 16, of Tupelo.
King understands the pressures because she’s felt them. She has clearer memories than she might like of kids calling her ugly and fat in third grade.
“I’ve had problems with body image and self-esteem since I can remember,” King said. “That’s why I decided I wanted to do this camp.”
She’s the founder of G.I.R.L.Y. Camp, which stands for “Girls, In Reality, Love Yourself.” The camp’s mission is to empower third- and fourth-grade girls to have faith in their own worth as human beings.
The free camp will run 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 18 to 21 at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Tupelo, and there’s room for more campers. Call (662) 322-9897 or email warner.king@yahoo.com to register a child.
G.I.R.L.Y. Camp was inspired by a Dove soap commercial that focused on girls who were afraid to go out in public because they were concerned about their appearance.
King developed the idea last year during two weeks at the Summer Youth Institute at the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi.
“They worked us hard,” King said. “We learned about community service and financial planning for our own projects.”
In September, she stood in front of her church and shared her idea with the congregation. Though she didn’t ask for money, she left with $950.
Her effort hasn’t been without challenges. She’d hoped to work with Tupelo Public School District to find potential campers, but she said her repeated attempts to get assistance from school officials went unanswered.
“I started asking moms that I know to talk to their kids. Even if they didn’t have girls the right age, they might know someone,” she said. “Right now, we have 12 kids, but there’s room for 13 more.”
King said she hopes to have a diverse group of girls, including those who “are really comfortable with themselves and others who aren’t as secure. I want girls from both ends of the spectrum.”
The camp staff will be King’s friends from Tupelo, Ripley, Jackson and Indianola. All of them are female, but she said it would be nice to add a couple of males to the group.
She also could use help arranging transportation for campers and staff for a visit to HealthWorks!, where King’s group will receive free admission.
G.I.R.L.Y. Camp will have the requisite fashion show, but most of the activities will be geared toward teaching girls that they don’t have to live up to arbitrary standards.
“I want them to know there’s not a narrow definition for the word, ‘beautiful,’” King said. “I want them to know they’re all beautiful, just as they are.”

scott.morris@journalinc.com