When a Florida mom was looking to send her daughters to summer camp last year, she wanted something different than a full summer of arts and crafts.
At the time, Elizabeth Ricci was president of the Democratic Women’s Club of Leon County in Florida’s capital. Her daughter, Paloma Rambana, had just helped lobby the Florida legislature for more than $1 million in funding for blind children.
She decided to enroll both Paloma and her sister Belén Rambana in Camp Congress for Girls D.C., a week-long leadership program that teaches girls how to run for office.
“I saw how few women leaders we have,” Ricci said. “I wanted to make sure my daughters knew that they could be leaders, in politics or industry.”
Kimberly Mitchem-Rasmussen, founder of the Girls in Politics Initiative, started Camp Congress for Girls in 2011 and led the first week-long Camp Congress for Girls in her church. Now, Mitchem-Rasmussen, who also runs the Political Institute for Women, leads the camp's flagship program in Washington.
This summer, the Girls in Politics Initiative is offering three rounds of the D.C. camp, with the next kicking off Monday, July 31. Highlights for campers ages 10-15 include trips to Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court and a two-day campaign intensive, where girls launch their own campaign, build a donor database, develop a ground game and learn about different types of elected positions.
The Girls in Politics Initiative also runs one-day programs on Congress, the United Nations and Parliament for girls in Canada, London, Paris and about 20 U.S. cities each year. Ricci’s daughters also attended the group's Camp United Nations for Girls.
“If we want them to grow up saying, ‘I want to be secretary of state,’ we want them to know what the secretary of state is as soon as possible,” Mitchem-Rasmussen said.
Instructors from the Political Institute for Women, a group that trains women to run for office, and the Girls in Politics Institute, staff the camp. They teach the same lessons from adult trainings to girls -- no watering it down.
The D.C. day camp draws about 60 percent of its campers from local neighborhoods and 40 percent from outside the D.C.-area. Ricci, her family and her daughter’s friend flew to D.C. specifically for the camp.
While the one-day camps around the country cater to those with varying interest in politics, the week-long session in D.C. appeals to girls with an unbounded interest in the political process. Ricci was surprised that her children were intrigued by C-SPAN, where they took a field trip during camp last summer.
“We don’t want Congress to be this distant, lofty thing that they can’t aspire to,” Mitchem-Rasmussen said. “We want them to see that all our institutions are accessible to them. They do have a place; they do have opportunity.”
While Mitchem-Rasmussen hasn’t had any of her program’s graduates run for office yet, she said many do run for student council. Paloma Rambana used her Camp Congress experience to win an election for homeroom representative in her sixth grade class.