by Sophie Petit
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Bowie resident Tanisha Peters, 39, describes mentoring at-risk youth as her “heart.”
Four years ago, she followed her heart and opened ASAP Development Center in Largo, offering day care and mentoring. This year, the center launched Camp Girls Rock, a summer day camp for young girls across the state, mixing mentoring with life etiquette skills, Peters said.
About 30 girls, ages 5 to 14, mainly from Prince George’s County, attended the nine-week camp that wrapped up its first summer session on Aug. 9, Peters said.
The camp costs about $1,300, including breakfast, lunch and a weekly field trip, she said. Peters also raises money from donations and regular fundraisers for the development center.
Each morning at Camp Girls Rock, the girls would gather for “Power Hour,” Peters said. They’d pick a word and relate it to their lives — trying to talk about it in a positive light, even if it wasn’t such a positive word, like “ugly” or “self-image.”
“The whole goal is to create that sisterhood bond,” Peters said. “Programs like this, sessions like this — these are some of the same things that got me through life.”
Some campers experienced great losses and abuse as nearly all came from broken and scattered families, she said.
Tameka Jones, 36, of Greenville signed her 8-year-old daughter, Morgan, up for the camp this summer. She said she had rarely seen Morgan as excited every day as she was when she was at Camp Girls Rock.
When Morgan’s younger stepsister died unexpectedly in July, the camp saw Morgan through that, Jones said.
“She wanted to go back,” Jones said. “Tanisha paid a lot of attention to her and made sure she was OK. It really helped her.”
Each week, the camp focused on a new activity.
Peters said that besides four paid employees and five counselors she also hired a chef to teach cooking, a dance instructor to teach dance, a seamstress to teach sewing and there was always lots of art.
Peters’ second cousin, 13-year-old Janya Odom, was another camper working through difficulties. Peters grew up with Janya’s mother, who is unemployed and without a home. Janya’s father only recently reached out to her after eight years of silence, Janya said. She’s been living with Peters since May. Janya will be going into ninth grade at Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt this year. “The camp has definitely helped my personal goal this year to get out more, talk to more people, reach out to more people,” Janya said. She said her favorite part of camp was mentoring and talking to the younger girls adding that she could relate to their tough experiences and gave them advice like not letting other people bring them down and always believing in themselves.
Peters estimated that a third of the camp participants will return for ASAP’s after school program.
“We were able to settle her and really work with her. This summer she came to a place where she said, ‘I’m going to do better,’” Peters said. “It doesn’t matter what hand life deals you, it’s up to you how you want to play your cards, and we gave her the tools to play her cards in a positive way despite a lot of negative things going on around her.”