Girls dream big at Athena Camp

Photo By: Photo By Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo By Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier At Athena Camps’ closing ceremonies, above, students receive certificates and congratulations from fellow campers.

Everything is intentional at Athena Camps.

Organizers of the summer day camps, held at Loyola School through August, designed the program to build confidence in young girls, ages 5-11, through sports, art and affirming group discussions.

The camps’ activities fulfill three purposes – let the girls be themselves, connect with each other and learn from strong female role models, according to Aby Ryan, Athena Camps CEO and founder.

“When I started Athena Camps, I wanted to address character building and all the issues girls face growing up – cliques, bullying, losing their voice,” Ryan said. “I wanted the girls to feel special and unique and also connected to each other, and give them a place where they just feel free to express who they are.”

Celebrating girl power

The one-week sessions focus on two sports and art projects centered on an overarching theme, such as “Dream Big,” “Inner Beauty” or “Celebrating Friendship.” Campers, separated by age, rotate through three stations throughout the day, one for each sport and the final for arts and crafts. Sports activities are noncompetitive, instead focusing on technical training and games. The arts and crafts, from dream catchers to friendship bracelets, underscore the weekly theme. Coaches and directors facilitate discussions aimed at empowering the girls.

“We have girl-power games and inspirational discussions, and try to let them just get their bodies moving,” Ryan said. “We’re intentional about all the lessons.”

The setting of Athena Camps is perhaps as important as the activities. The camps, set up on the grass and blacktop and in a classroom at Loyola, are quiet, the quarters close so that the girls “feed off each other’s positive energy” and feel safe without the pressure of observation, Ryan said. The arts and crafts are held in a room covered with the girls’ drawings – a relaxation corner on the edge of the room boasts beanbags and girl-centered books that offer a respite from collage making and painting.

A team of coaches and a director oversee every activity. Ryan said she hires young women in college, usually student athletes, an attempt to tap into their “energy.”

“These coaches are all college girls, with some experience of being on a team and new life experiences,” she said. “They can relate to the girls while also teaching them by just being themselves.”

A model for growth

The coaches, setting and activities have created a formula for Athena Camps, which is now held at three locations in the Bay Area. Since its inception in 2011, the program has grown from serving 300 girls to more than 500 in locations in Willow Glen, San Jose and now Los Altos.

While Ryan was surprised by the growth, she said she still has big goals.

“I’d like to replicate the experience in more places in the Bay Area, but keep the magic and the quality of the camp,” she said.

So far, feedback from both parents and girls has been positive. Girls at a recent camp said their experiences were “awesome.” Three stepped forward to show their “affirmation” bracelets – jewelry that Ryan and her team award to a group of girls each day for standout behavior. Each bracelet has a message – “Dream Big,” “Never Give Up,” “Dare to Dream.” Ryan said the giving of the bracelets – the recognition that they had done something positive – is by far the girls’ favorite part of the day. By the end of each week, every girl will receive a bracelet. It’s a gift Ryan gives away, but she said she gets another in return.

“It’s a gift to feel I’m a channel to give away all the gifts I was given,” she said. “I can’t believe I get to do this.”

Athena Camps sessions cost $375 per week.

To register and for more information, visit

Athena Camp 2013 - Photos By Ellie Van Houtte/Los Altos Town Crier

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