A reception for the first session of the GEMS Club summer camp was held Aug. 14 at Café at 407 in Liverpool. The girls-only STEAM camp, which was held July 30 through Aug. 3 at Baker High School, taught girls entering grades four through seven coding, graphic design and video production from guest female mentors. The girls sold their final projects — tote bags and light-up greeting cards — to benefit Ophelia’s Place, which promotes body positivity and offers services for people with eating disorders. (Photo by Ashley M. Casey)
Café at 407 in Liverpool was aglow Aug. 14 with blinking greeting cards powered by handmade circuits and the flashing rainbow orbs of softball-sized robots. But it was the intellect of the girls who made these objects that shone the brightest of all.
Pre-teen girls gathered with their families at the café to showcase their projects from the first session of the GEMS Club summer camp, which was held July 30 through Aug. 3 at Baker High School. GEMS — which stands for “Girls Excelling in Math and Science” — encourages young women’s interests and skills in the fields of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math).
The camp, which is in its third year, was sponsored by the town of Lysander Parks and Recreation Department and led by Baker High School Teacher Librarian Leslie Cartier and Chittenango Middle School Librarian Jessica Regitano. They partnered with Ophelia’s Place, a Liverpool-based organization that promotes body positivity and offers services for people with eating disorders. Café at 407 generates revenue for the nonprofit.
This year’s camp had the dual mission of developing STEM skills and encouraging a positive self-image.
“I feel like it was the best GEMS camp we’ve had, ever. The girls were so kind and good to each other,” Cartier said. “Sometimes, I’ve seen too much competitiveness and tearing down of each other, but we didn’t see any of that this year. I think it’s because we set the tone for that.”
The girls learned to program robots and guide them through life-size drawings of the digestive system, which they demonstrated in the rear events room at the café. In the main area, the campers showed their other creations: light-up greeting cards, printed tote bags and videos in which they interviewed each other.
Last week’s reception isn’t the only showcase of the girls’ work. The B’ville GEMS camp will be featured in Sartorial Geek, whose fall issue focuses on women in STEM. The camp also will be featured on the podcast “Well + Weird.”
Dariyan Deweese, who is going into sixth grade at Ray Middle School, learned about the camp from a flyer sent home from school.
“It sounded like a lot of fun, and I really like math and science, so I signed up for it,” she said.
Deweese demonstrated the circuits she and her fellow campers built using batteries and copper tape to power lights for their greeting cards, which they designed in Cricut. She said it was tricky to get the circuit to work, but eventually she was successful.
“We got to really problem-solve with this,” she said. “When I got it to work, I felt really good.”
As for the body positivity aspect of the camp, Deweese said learning that other girls shared feelings of insecurity and the importance of a positive self-image resonated with her.
“It was really nice to know that a lot of other girls think that too and you’re not alone,” she said. “Every girl is beautiful in her own way; every girl is smart in her own way.”
Josie Butler, an incoming fifth-grader, is a GEMS camp veteran, having participated last summer. She said she liked learning video production and she approved of the messages of acceptance and self-worth.
“People are beautiful any way they are,” she said.
Riley Morgan, who is also entering fifth grade, said her friends encouraged her to sign up for the camp. She said she would consider participating in GEMS Club next summer.
“I liked everything,” she said. “I learned that it doesn’t matter what you look like.”
Parents observed the positive impact of the camp on their kids.
“This is very impressive,” said Renata Cary, whose daughter, Lauren, is going into fifth grade. “My daughter loved it so much, she signed up for the next one.”
Cary said the best part of the reception was seeing the girls take pride in their work, but she said it was “wonderful” that their projects would benefit Ophelia’s Place.
“Not only does it provide some visibility for this place [but] I think it’s good for the girls,” she said. “It’s fabulous. Who wouldn’t want their daughter to have these messages?”
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.