Camp champ – Hartselle woman organizes summer experience for young girls
By Catherine Godbey
For the Enquirer
Looking back, Claudette Owens said she wonders how her life might have been different. The 60-year-old Hartselle woman remembers all of the ideas for inventions and businesses she dreamed of as a child but never pursued.
“I was always dreaming up things. I had stuff in my mind all the time but never pursued doing anything with those ideas because I didn’t think I could do it,” Owens said. “I didn’t have anyone to show me I could do it.”
To ensure no other young girl doubts herself, Owens – who holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees – created The Career Camp, a week-long summer experience targeting sixth- to ninth-grade girls.
“If I had something like this, I wonder how many companies I would have started,” said Owens, a pastor at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, retired engineer with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command at Redstone Arsenal and co-founder of the non-profit outreach group Fountain of Life.
To establish the free camp, set for June 27 through July 1 at the Decatur-Morgan County Entrepreneurial Center in Decatur, Owens partnered with Decatur Youth Services and Tiara Turner’s Save Our Girls Mentoring Group.
The camp will accept the first 40 girls who apply.
“When they leave the camp, I want them to be confident with who they are and how they look,” Owens said. “I hope they walk away with the understanding that each of them has something special inside of them to offer the world.
“I hope they know that ‘You can be and do whatever you desire to be.’”
Those are the same words Owens heard from a high school teacher at a critical time in her life. Though 42 years removed from that moment, she said she remembers the details clearly.
She ran into the teacher while walking down the school’s hallway after meeting with a counselor who discouraged her from following her dreams because of the color of her skin.
“My feelings were hurt, and I felt defeated,” Owens said. “My teacher asked what was wrong. He put his hands on my shoulders and told me he didn’t ever want me to listen to anyone else’s opinion of what I could do. He said, ‘The only person that can stop you is you. You can be and do whatever you desire to be.'”
Owens said she also found inspiration from the young women who attended Alabama A&M and returned to her small, rural south Alabama town to teach. She specifically noted the impact of her high school physics teacher.
“She made an impression on me so much. I went to Alabama A&M and majored in physics because she did. She is one of the teachers that showed me what I could be,” Owens said.
Now, Owens said she hopes to provide that same inspiration to tween and early teenage girls through The Career Camp.
“I wanted to target middle school girls because I think that’s where they get lost,” Owens said.
“Those are their formative years,” added Donna Whitten, director of operations of The E-Center, which will host The Career Camp.
The camp will include science, technology, engineering and math sessions; etiquette lessons; entrepreneurship classes; visits from elected officials; and a panel featuring a diverse group of successful women in north Alabama.
“I want the panel to tell the girls what they do and how they got there, including their setbacks,” Owens explained. “I want the girls to see women who have tenacity, faced challenges and went on to do great things. I will share my story with them, about how I grew up poor and ended up in foster care but didn’t let that hold me back.”
Along with Save Our Girls and Decatur Youth Services, Owens is receiving support from Target Distribution Center, which is enabling her to offer the camp for free, and The E-Center.
“We are trying to support anyone who obviously wants to encourage entrepreneurship,” said John Joseph, executive director of The E-Center. “That includes encouraging anyone who wants to make kids ready for the world they are going to live in. That’s why we were very excited to hear about Claudette’s camp. It took all of two seconds to agree to host the camp.”
Along with encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship, Owens said she hopes to teach participants about being good citizens and embracing community service.
“I want them to know we are all responsible for giving back to our community and making it the best place possible. Community service is so important,” Owens said.
Applications for the camp will be posted on Facebook and sent to schools by the end of April. Anyone interested in assisting with the camp can contact Owens at email@example.com.
The Career Camp is one of several summer experiences being offered to area youth, like Camp Carnegie, carnegiearts.org; The Princess Theatre camps, princesstheatre.org; and KIVS summer volunteer program, 256-355-8628.
Additionally, Pine Ridge Day Camp in Somerville will offer week-long camp experiences for ages 4 to 10th grade from June 6 through July 29. Activities include a ropes challenge, climbing wall, archery, canoeing, swimming, arts and crafts, hiking and more. Cost is $368 per week. For more information visit pineridgedaycamp.org.