Some of you know that this year I decided to take a pause from Diana Camp. If you follow on Instagram or Facebook, you might have also noticed that I’m doing a summer program after all, kind of like Diana Camp...but with a twist. I’m excited to tell you all about this new iteration, which I’m calling #DianaCircleSummer. But first, I want to share some reflections on what got me to this point, including business insights and what I’ve learned about working with girls. But If you want to skip to the end and see pics from this year and hear about our adventures, go for it!
Plus, Diana Circle Registration is OPEN for the fall, so be sure to sign up now and share with friends.
Diana Camp Herstory
Back in 2017, I thought “wouldn’t it be fun to have a summer camp?!”
We had just finished our first year of Diana Circle in Philadelphia. Six girls had completed the year, and we were already forming a deep bond with each other. I loved them and loved the work we had started to do together. If you don’t know yet about the amazing feminist, goddess-y, magical, social justice, empowerment work we do with girls during the school year, be sure to check it out here on my website and at In Sacred Balance, where the beauty all began back in the 90’s.
So, as the school year unfolded for this pilot group in Philadelphia a few years back, I felt the potential of MORE. What MORE could we do if we had more time? What places in our hearts could we unlock and discover? What amazing growth could these tiny amazon girls experience if we were given the time and space to just dive in?
OMG. You guys. Sometimes I wonder about my brain... I was a fairly new mom - my daughter was 3 years old. I had a solid part time job, but I was dreaming of how to take Red Seeds to the next level. Camp sounded like something that could be generative financially and creatively. I mean. Right? CAMP. Everyone sends their kids to camp. Why wouldn’t it work? My whole career I’ve had these intuitive notions about “fun” programs to try. And with a wing and prayer, I leap, whether or not I am fully prepared to pull it off.
Luckily, Diana Camp that first year was glorious. It all just worked; the program, the location, the girls, the staff. It was a tiny operation. Twelve kids, three adults, and my friend’s family land out in the suburbs, complete with a pool, a trampoline and a creek. We learned herbal medicine, we wrote poetry, we sang songs and did magic. Most of all, we bonded with each other and the feeling of being together in nature. I believe the success of this camp is what helped Diana Circle grow into the thriving program it is becoming.
The second year of Diana Camp was two weeks, not just one. And the number of girls tripled. I focused the curriculum on instincts. I have been struck time and again by girls as young as eight telling me that they feel instincts about trust and personal safety, but they ignore those instincts because they don’t want to create an awkward or embarrassing situation. This, to me, is nothing short of an emergency. So I created a program that I knew would be genuinely fun for girls that was all about acting on instincts. This, too, was a big success.
Except. With this bigger operation, it became evident that while I know how to create bad-ass, life-changing programs, I don’t know how to run the business side. I mismanaged money (the problem with getting an influx of payments months before the actual program!) and ended up in debt. The location which had been so perfect the first year, was just not capable of handling our growth. In the second week, my most collaborative counselor got injured and had to leave us. Then to top it all off, there was a flood which destroyed a bunch of our materials and equipment, and displaced us for several days. I ended the summer feeling defeated and deflated.
Dreaming the big dream
In my dreams, Diana Camp is an overnight camp, located somewhere beautiful. There’s about 75 girls from all over the country who find their way to the magic, feminism, social justice and love of nature. In my own life, nothing has been able to replace the time spent living in a village-like setting - a place where we make and share meals, sing around campfires, soak in the stars, and FEEL that a different way of living in community with the earth is truly possible. I want that for myself and for girls. I believe it’s part of the healing that will help us shift and let go of the unsustainable and violent culture we currently live in.
In this dream, I’m NOT in charge of the business plan. I’m part of a team of people who collaborate to make this a sustainable endeavor that is just as unique and life changing as Diana Camp was that first year.
Slowly, I’m starting to have conversations with people who can help me flesh out this vision. Over the course of the last year, I met with a camp director, a retreat center director, a financial advisor and a few other skilled friends in my network. I’m asking for help, and help is appearing.
I’m also asking, “is this really what I want? Is this the best move for me to make?” Running a camp is HARD. It’s a year-round job. The pay isn’t great. The risks are high - like...what if you get a great turn out one year, but totally under-register another year??? This kind of volatility is scary and exhausting. For so long I’ve made career choices that absolutely feel like I’m moving toward the work of my heart… but away from financial wellbeing. At this moment, I’m in my mid/late 30’s. I don’t have a savings account or a retirement plan. I do own my house, but I struggle with upkeep and still have roommates to help pay the bills.
So I’m proceeding with caution. There’s enough about the dream of camp that I’m not willing to give up yet. And I know that willingness often leads to surprising open doors (anyone know someone who wants to donate a bunch of land or money!?!?). But I’m admitting to myself - for the first time in my life, really - that a dream and my own enthusiasm might not be enough.
Bumbling my way forward, with faith
Hitting the pause button on camp was definitely the right choice for this year. I struggled with it, because we have momentum. Three years in, I’m starting to get emails from people out of my personal network asking about camp. And friends around the country are asking if they can come bring their kid to Diana Camp next year. Without a doubt, Diana Camp is unique...and there’s a real need for something like it. That feels HUGE! And it’s hard to say “no.”
As part of my exploration of how to make it work in the future, I thought maybe I’d get a job for this summer working at someone else’s camp. I pictured learning some operations skills and getting paid along the way. I got a few offers...but in the end no outside opportunities were just right. So at the very last minute, I decided to put together a very casual, intimate “mini camp.” I figured, I have a big car. I know a bunch of great kids and families. What if we just piled in and went on adventures to lakes and beaches and forests? Plus, my daughter is old enough to tag along and having her with me sounded too sweet to pass up.
The power of SMALL
Intimacy is part of what makes Diana Circle great. Kids crave small group settings. There is something irreplaceable about both having peers and a mentor in a sanctuary where everyone feels like they can simply be themselves. Visible. Loved. Heard. Held.
I hear girls tell me, regularly, that Diana Circle is a place they feel this intimacy and sanctuary. AND. As Diana Circle grows, the groups have grown from 6 girls in a chapter to 10. It’s not a huge difference. But it’s a difference. And since we only see each other 2 hours at a time, either once or twice a month, it can feel like not enough. This year, the girls who have been with me for the longest have been saying, repeatedly, that they miss the old days and want more time/less distraction/the feeling of closeness. I’m listening to them, because I feel it too. What I love about Diana Circle is the chance to have meaningful relationships where I’m not just a teacher.
Once I decided to do “mini-camp” I knew I wanted to be different than anything I’ve ever done before. I’ve always balanced the need for fun and play with structure in my programs. Kids need both. But I’m a teacher by training, so you should see my planning files. I have spreadsheets of schedules and detailed curriculum...it’s a good thing, for the most part. But my goal for this year was simple: get to know each other better. Get bored together. See what happens when we let the spirit of adventure lead us. I thought, this might be the answer to that longing for intimacy. An anchor of summertime spaciousness and depth.
We’re about halfway through #DianaCircleSummer. And so far, it’s exceeding my hopes. At 8:30 in the morning, girls start arriving at my house. They dump backpacks on the porch, make a grab for games and toys that I store in an old wooden crate. The most popular item is a sturdy tricycle that is way too small for most of them. They careen up and down the sidewalk, looking like lanky, comedic, insects as they push the tiny peddles. Once all the girls are here - between 6 and 8 of them, depending on the week - we climb in the car and head out.
The Car is Sacred Space
Driving a lot isn’t my favorite. But it does facilitate getting to know each other and bond in surprisingly important ways. The older girls in the group get to take turns sitting in the front passenger seat, where they DJ our music. Loud singalongs to summer jams pumped up on the stereo can bring a group together like nothing else. It feels special. Mostly it’s pop music, but there are also musicals, movie soundtracks and some surprises from other decades and genres. Mostly, everyone is kind and flexible about each other’s musical tastes. And we get to learn about each other through what each girl requests.
The car is important in other ways, too. If you’ve ever had a road trip with a friend, or taken a pack of kids on a car ride, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Cars lend themselves to intimacy. It’s not always about deep conversations. Sometimes it’s about falling asleep on someone’s shoulder. Or being annoyed, uncomfortable and bored. I bet you anything it’s these moments that will be remembered, as much as any fun and beautiful part. It’s a feeling of “we’re in it together.”
The weather has been all over the map. The first week was chilly. The second week was rainy. The third week hot and sunny. On the cool and rainy weeks, we ventured out for hikes that ended up being surprisingly amazing. Forests really do feel wild in the rain, and we felt wild, too, as we took off our shoes and socks and waded in the creek. Once we found a waterfall that isn’t usually there (I don’t think) and felt like we were in some kind of paradise.
Starting a conversation:
The one thing I insist on every day is “get to know you questions.” Like I said, one of my main goals this summer is to get to know the girls in a deeper way. Yes, I can learn lots from observation. But some things have to come from sharing. I’ve asked questions like:
What’s something you’ve learned about yourself recently?
What’s something you’ve always known about yourself?
Describe a community that you are a part of. What do you like about that community?
Is magic real? How does it work?
What does your name mean? Where does it come from?
The older girls have led the way in these discussions. I feel so moved by their willingness to share thoughtful, vulnerable, reflections. Their sharing models what is possible and makes space for younger girls to stretch in their trust and self exploration. A delightful surprise for me was a girl who is new to the group and one of the youngest. Every day she shared profound and beautiful insights. The sharing is always my favorite part of the day. And while the girls sometimes grumble about sitting in a circle instead of playing in the lake, I know that this space for sharing is important to them too.
A safe space for sharing and reflection are one part of what makes Diana Circle special. The other part is ritual and magic. Little children are given lots of space and permission to believe in magic and play with the “imaginal realm.” But as kids get older, there is less and less space for this. When we lose touch with magic and push away our relationship with imagination, we cut off our opportunity to FEEL connection with sacred that is all around us. During the school year, we do lots of guided meditations and craft projects to help us feel the magic. But this summer? Probably the best best BEST part has been the ways that ritual feels fluid and easy.
Everywhere we go, we make an altar. This simple activity helps us relate to the spirit of the places we go - to FEEL them, notice the plants, the soil, the rocks, the animals. We gather sticks and pinecones and feathers and flowers and carefully arrange them. I love that this relatively quick activity gets everyone involved. We shift from being somewhere just for recreation to giving thanks and being mindful. Our altars are offerings. We gave dried and fresh flowers to the ocean and thanked the dolphins for their playful presence. We thanked the ocean for all she gives us, and held a prayer for the safety and wellbeing of all the fish and the whales and the creatures of the sea.
We pay attention to what we notice. Wild blueberries. Canadian Geese. Toads and crabs and shells and feathers. All of it, sacred.
Well this has turned in to the longest update I’ve written in ages. If you read to the end, thank you for holding our journey in your hearts. There are still a few weeks of #DianaCircleSummer coming up in August. And Diana Circle as a school year program starts back up in September.
If you are outside of the Philly Area, be sure to check out my free conference call series for parents. New dates are on the calendar for Parents Talk Periods and Dads Represent!