SoV – Hope Southern Indiana

Esteem Makeover Bootcamp

Hope Southern Indiana’s Esteem Makeover Bootcamp grew out of a conversation the Executive Director, Angie Graf, had with counselors from a nearby high school. In speaking to them, she learned that any student who expresses suicidal thoughts has to be sent home until they’ve had a mental health evaluation – which can sometimes take a week to schedule, further isolating an already depressed student.

In response to this, Angie wrote a grant to Impact 100 – a philanthropic agency with the goal of empowering women – and received $100,000 to fund the Esteem Makeover Bootcamp.

The camp serves girls in middle and high school, ages 11 to 18. The girls and their counselors spend a weekend at the Country Lake Retreat Center in Underwood, Indiana. Friday night and Saturday are focused on inner beauty, and cover topics from bullying to social media, mental health, and nutrition. The girls might work with anyone from a yoga teacher to a self-defense instructor. On Sunday, they talk about outward beauty, and bring in hair stylists and make-up artists.

Before they leave the camp, the girls get a care package filled with materials that they can use to continue implementing the various techniques they’ve learned. Hope Southern Indiana also brings the girls back together one Sunday a month for six months to provide follow-up help and track how they’re doing.

To date, 143 girls have gone through the program, which started in 2019. They take an average of 50 girls at each camp, and try to run two camps a year – though they had to cancel the camp scheduled for June of 2020 due to COVID. Girls can be referred to the free camp through the schools, mental health services, or their parents – though a handful have come to the program on their own without any referrals.

Every girl takes a self-esteem quiz at the start of the weekend, and another at the end. So far, the scores from the second quiz have shown an average 75% increase. But, in a sense, all of the program’s many accomplishments can be illustrated by a single powerful story. One of the students who came through the camp had been cutting herself and had carefully hidden scars all over her arms and legs. What she found at camp made her comfortable enough that she was able to open up for the first time and share what she’d been going through. From there, they were able to help the girl find the courage, and the safe space, to finally share all of this with her mother, so that she no longer had to hide what she was doing or go through it alone.

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