Girls Inc. of Orange County has held its annual signature summer camp Eureka! for the past 21 years and Summer 2020 was no exception. Even in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the camp was operated utilizing an online model and condensed into a two-week program. Seventy-one girls in grades 7-12 met five times a week from 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., connecting with one another through the online platform, CANVAS.
The Girls Inc. staff broke up the overall camp into two themes, each one covering one week. The first week focused on Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) and True Crime, while the second one was centered around social media awareness and activism. Although the girls could not meet in person, they interacted with guest speakers through several webinars and participated in workshops that made them ponder how their own life connects to the content they were learning. Through these activities, the girls learned more about each other’s lives and gained insights from experienced women.
“I really enjoyed Eureka!, it was great to get a unique experience virtually, as it was nice to meet new girls and get many new perspectives of girls in different grades,” senior Graciela Grande said. “Also, the Girls Inc. staff made it enjoyable and easy to follow, and the topics we would discuss made the girls really engage and interact with each other.”
During the first week, Girls Inc. girls learned all about the field of forensics. One volunteer guest speaker during CSI week was San Francisco Police Department Criminalist, Katrina Maddela. Maddela works in the police department’s Forensic Biology Department. She provided insights on her career path and also her job responsibilities, but perhaps the most fun for the girls was an activity called Facts vs. Fiction, which was done via Zoom. The objective was to debunk any common misconceptions about DNA and biology portrayed by crime shows. In addition to the information delivered from the presenter, the girls were given other assignments related to crime where they had to work both together and individually to complete.
“I really enjoyed doing the collage about what True Crimes Means To Me because I was able to use my creativity to create it,” senior Odalis De La Cruz said. “Another of my favorite things was doing Ted Talks because I became more informed about the issues and situations that people faced.”
The second week of Eureka! consisted of workshops and presentations centered around racial, gender, religious, and sexual orientation discrimination in the real world. Natalie Gillard, the founder and creator of FACTUALITY, helped educate the group on how certain disadvantages lead to discrimination. FACTUALITY is a virtual experience that utilizes dialogue, crash course, and several interactive elements to simulate structural inequality in America. Participation in FACTUALITY’s virtual experience has facilitated multiple companies, institutes, and universities to develop a more inclusive and accepting environment.
Privilege is defined as a special right or advantage given to a particular person or group. After learning about the multiple experiences where people encounter the effects of inequality and discrimination, girls discovered more about the struggles and privileges their fellow counterparts faced. They learned more about one another through an activity called “Cross Your Privilege,” where Girls Inc. staff read statements regarding privilege, and if the girls had it they would rip off a piece of paper and put it into a clear jar. This bonding exercise that involved the entire group of girls left a memorable impact on even the youngest girls. Seventh graders Arabella Kats and Andrea Martinez both mentioned the significance “Cross Your Privilege” had on their ability to empathize with others. Kats shared that it was an eye-opening experience that made her realize no girl was alone and many of them shared struggles.
Interspersed throughout the two weeks were activities that would bring the girls closer together and assist in creating lasting relationships. Participants were assigned a secret sister pen pal and given several writing prompts that helped them learn about one another. At the end of the camp, the girls’ “secret sisters” were revealed to them.
While the format of the 2020 Eureka! summer camp was not ideal, participants, Girls Inc. staff, and guest speakers alike learned to adapt to the new platform and structure of the camp. The organizing staff hosted several ZOOM calls to give the girls as many opportunities as possible to meet each other. From presentations that required the girls to think critically to workshops that put them in their counterparts’ shoes, participants were taught a myriad of skills that will come in handy to them both in higher education and in the working world.