DES MOINES, Iowa — Isabell Robinson is 13-years-old, and she wants everyone to know she can rock a guitar.
“I went to a summer camp one year, and there was a guy who was playing acoustic guitar, and I wanted to play. And he was like, ‘No you probably don’t even know how to play,'” she said.
But two summers ago, she started going to a different kind of camp. Girls Rock!Des Moines, a summer camp teaching girls about rock music, helped Robinson discover her passion with other girls just like her.
“When you’re around guys, I mean, sometimes you obviously feel like you’re going to be judged for whatever you do,” she said. “But if you’re in a community where everyone’s there for each other, and you’re all there for the same reason – for music, I mean, it’s just comfortable.”
It’s that stereotype these girls say they felt they were up against as soon as they picked up an instrument that inspired Rae Fehring to create Girls Rock.
“I actually sat in a guitar shop for a couple of hours…and I noticed all the kids coming in for lessons. And in the span of two, two-and-a-half hours, I only saw one girl. And that was kind of jarring to me,” Fehring said. “I wondered where all the girls were – why weren’t girls taking lessons on bass, or drums?”
So Fehring decided to find them. Posting flyers at schools around Des Moines for a summer day camp meant to teach girls rock music, Fehring had 23 girls show up in 2013.
Today, Girls Rock has evolved into a non-profit, bigger than Fehring ever dreamed.
“The girls are out there, obviously. This is our third year of having a summer day camp, and we have 40 girls signed up. We sold out, and we actually have a waiting list for the summer day camp,” she said. “So, they’re there. They’re out there, wanting to play and wanting to create music.”
For girls like Robinson, Girls Rock gives her a community inspiring confidence.
“My favorite thing is this wall, that we have, and we can write on sticky notes and pieces of paper, compliments about some of the girls there,” Robinson said. “Like, ‘Kelsey rocks on guitar,’ or ‘She has great style.’ And it’s completely anonymous. It’s just really great to see all of that.”
While Fehring says she once thought she’d end up in a career of academia, she never imagined herself as a music teacher. But the impact her camp has had on these girls has transformed it into a full-time job for her.
Now, Fehring hopes to raise enough funds to launch after-school programs, out-of-school programs, an overnight summer camp for girls, quarterly music conferences, an adult women’s group, and even an early-start program for younger girls, called ‘Little Girls Rock.’
“It kind of became clear that Girls Rock!Des Moines couldn’t just mean a summer day camp,” she said. “It had to be an organization that provided sort of this network, or portfolio, of programming, that gave girls an opportunity to be connected to music education and empowerment and creation throughout the year.”
Fehring says exposure is the greatest advertisement her organization can pursue.
On Friday, May 8, the girls of Girls Rock!Des Moines will perform at Lazerfest, showcasing their talent to the community. It’s through these girls, and the music they make, that Fehring believes Girls Rock!Des Moines will get the community support it needs.
“It’s pretty clear that there is the sense that girls can’t,” she said. “But they can.”