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Trailblazing: Madam President Camp

Madam President Camp was founded by Pam Kelley and Lee Smithson Burd in 2013. Its mission is “To inspire girls to use their voice to become leaders in their communities now and in the future.” During the summer, the organization provides virtual and in-person opportunities for middle-school girls to use their abilities. Interactive learning experiences provide a grounding in “the foundational skills of leadership: self-confidence, team-building, networking, and civic engagement.” As Mary Messner, the acting executive director, stated, “During camp, there is a tangible moment when young girls pivot from being aware of the issues or topics that surround them in their community to recognizing they have a voice. They will be the leaders who make a difference today and in the years to come. Our camps are growing to serve girls across the Kansas City metro area.”

Jennifer Ingraham, Rita Cortes, and Alissia Canaday, board members 


Campers at Paseo High School

The organization needs female volunteers. Camp facilitators receive training and implement the curriculum, which has already been prepared. Camp mentors are said to be “the heart of camp.” Generally speaking, they are college students or young professionals who can add stories of their experiences to what the campers are learning. Advisory board members are involved with networking, outreach, and curriculum development. In addition, their wisdom is useful in planning the future growth of the organization. Attendance at Madam President Camp is not limited to those whose families have the means to pay for it – sponsors make that possible. 

Brinda, Macy, Harmoni, and Lauren, campers at St. Teresa’s Academy

Madam President Camp is partnering with other organizations, including Young Women on the Move and the Girl Scouts. Mary Beth Gentry, founder and chief executive officer of Young Women on the Move, said, “Madam President Camp leadership shares our common belief in the power of collaboration to create greater impact than any of us could do by ourselves. This [past] summer, our young women gained new insights about themselves and how best to use their strengths to lead anytime, anywhere. We are grateful to have received scholarships to help our young women participate in this extraordinary, weeklong experience.” Girl Scouts who attended a special leadership day in February were able to earn two badges.

Already, the alumni of Madam President Camp are benefiting from it. As Sophia Dominguez-Heithoff, Miss Teen USA 2017, wrote, “I was chosen to be in one of the first classes of Madam President Camp. It changed my life and helped me realize what I wanted to do with my adult life.”

Featured in the March 19, 2022 issue of The Independent.
By Heather N. Paxton


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