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I moved to Seattle six months ago knowing very little about the city.  What little I did know was Seattle’s music legacy – from Jimi Hendrix to the 90’s grunge scene of Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder and friends. When I learned about Rain City Rock Camp for Girls, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the “Seattle-ness” of the organization. It’s all about social justice and female empowerment – and it does it in the way Seattle knows best — rock n’ roll.

I recently sat down with the executive director of Rain City Rock Camp for Girls, Natalie Walker, to learn more about the organization.

R: What is Rain City Rock Camp for Girls?

N: Rain City Rock Camp for Girls (RCRC) is a non-profit organization founded in 2008. Our mission is to build positive self-esteem in girls and encourage creative expression through music. Currently our flagship program is a week-long Summer Camp for girls ages 8-16. At camp, girls receive instruction in guitar, bass, drums or vocals. In addition to learning an instrument, they form bands, write an original song, and practice it with coaching. At the end of the week, each band performs their song on stage at a final showcase in front of friends, family and the public.  Throughout the week, girls also participate in workshops related to DIY empowerment, self-expression, and self-esteem. Last year we also ran our first Ladies Rock Camp for 25 women ages 19 and up.

Rain City Rock Camp for Girls is a member of an international alliance of girls’ rock camps called the Girls Rock Camp Alliance.

R: Why was it founded?

N: As active participants in the Seattle music scene, both co-founder Holly Houser and I saw that there was a surprising lack of community among the musicians- particularly for women. We were also struck by the disparity of female representation in the music scene.  Seattle is such a progressive city in so many other ways, it was quite striking to us that the music community would remain so stuck in archaic views of women in music.

R: What lessons do you hope that girls/ladies leave camp with?

N: While the camp is built upon allowing girls to explore their creativity through rock music, our mission is primarily to build self-esteem in girls by providing them with a safe, supportive environment, positive role models, and professional-level skill building opportunities to help them express themselves. We envision a world in which self-confident girls and women live out loud with equal access and encouragement to take chances, speak their minds, and be themselves; a world where all are supported, respected, and heard.  For us, Rock Camp is about choices. It’s about empowering girls to go out in the world and “rock” at whatever it is they choose to do.

R: How do you think music can help empower these young girls/women?

N: I think music is such a strong tool for social change. It is a form of self expression, a way of finding your voice, and a way to make a difference. Music is a medium that is already so powerful and such a prevalent part of our lives. When you take such a powerful medium and create a safe space for expression, surround girls with role models and a curriculum based on improving self esteem, you are going to see monumental changes- and we see it all the time.

R: What are your biggest challenges in being executive director of a Seattle-based non-profit?

N: One of our particular challenges is gaining familiarity and visibility in the community. We have only been around for two years, and it is a goal of ours to become a household name. This is particularly challenging due to the fact that we recently had to change our name. A lot of our web presence and community outreach was initially done under the name Girls Rock! Seattle.

Up until this point, much of our fundraising and outreach has been very grassroots- which is not to say that it hasn’t been successful- but from a standpoint of sustainability, we are going to have to look into growing corporate and foundation support. We have had the joy of being almost entirely supported by small individual donors, which is so lucky and incredibly humbling.  We do have to recognize that in order to maintain and sustain our growth, we will have to build upon our donor base.

R: How are you involved in the community?

N: We do a lot of community outreach to schools, at local farmers markets, at community events and local concerts and shows. We have also worked with The Vera Project, Technology Access Foundation, El Centro de la Raza, Camp Ten Trees, and Powerful Voices (among others) to ensure scholarship placement and to get the word out at events. We also work closely with Reel Grrls, who provide us with an office space. We strongly believe in the strength of collaboration, and we’d like to see our operations as an example of what we teach the girls at camp.

R: If you could have one celebrity endorsement, who would it be?

N: We’d love to have an endorsement from Heart. Ann and Nancy Wilson are two rockin’ and inspiring women, AND they’re from Seattle. We even briefly considered calling ourselves “The Ann and Nancy Wilson Rock Camp for Girls.”

We’d also love to work with Pearl Jam. They are very involved with social justice causes, and have often stood up for feminist purposes. I also happen to be a huge fan, so that doesn’t hurt.

For more information on Rain City Rock Camp for Girls, visit: http://www.girlsrockseattle.org/

For more information on how Natalie rocks with her band Another Perfect Crime visit: http://www.myspace.com/anotherperfectcrime

Images courtesy of Rain City Rock Camp for Girls.

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