Our first day of training for the Eureka! camp, and we’re given information that I’m not fully prepared to hear. In between fun icebreakers and personality quizzes, we learn about mandated reporting, and the procedure that we should expect to follow if any one of us should suspect abuse involving one of the girls. It’s emphasized that the majority of calls to the Child Protective Services end up being unfounded to demonstrate that we don’t need to be sure to report something, and the red flags and the chain of command is communicated clearly. This new task, to always be alert for something suspicious, is still unsettling.
The next day, we get the opportunity to hear from several nonprofit organizations that work closely with Girls Inc., who runs Eureka! We hear from Second Harvest, who provides free lunches to every girl throughout the summer, and Mercy House, who provides housing to the homeless as a first step to recovery. There’s a presentation by Project Hope, who works closely with families for years to end the cycle of homelessness by emphasizing children’s education. The presenter said they work with six of the girls at Eureka! this summer. And there’s Human Options. Dedicated to helping any victim of domestic violence, Human Options provides shelter and programming to any person to need it. In her presentation, the representative threw out a statistic: 1 in 3 teens is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner. She had more specific information about Orange County, but unfortunately none of it stuck in my brain quite as well. Still, it showed that Orange County is not an exception to this trend. This number, one in three, shocks me every time I think about it. That means that one out of every three girls that I get to know this summer will suffer an abusive relationship before they turn 20. Every time I walk into a classroom to facilitate a lesson to 25 girls, 8 of them will be or have been abused by a romantic partner.
Before this week, I didn’t fully recognize how important this camp’s mission is. Orange County, despite its reputation, is not a safe haven of wealth for all its residents. As much as I love STEM and believe that every girl should be confident to pursue whatever field they want, the less advertised goals of Eureka! are more important. These girls need to feel empowered, and they must be strong, smart, and bold beyond their academics.