As eighth graders, two friends from opposite coasts in the U.S. attending a program in Switzerland (unaffiliated with Sacred Heart) called The Winter Term stayed up late one night brainstorming an idea. They had enjoyed their time at the program so much, would it be possible to bring a similar experience to marginalized young women, they wondered?
One of the girls was Ava Reinstein, now a senior at Sacred Heart Preparatory (SHP). The next day, the pair mailed letters to their families, proposing a summer camp for girls in Jamaica, where Reinstein’s friend, Yanli Muhs, had roots through her father’s medical practice and home in Cousins Cove, Hanover Parish, a remote area of the country with few resources.
During the following year as freshmen in high school, the two girls and their families held weekly conference calls to begin setting up a summer camp, called Poetreef Summer Term
. They learned alongside their parents how to establish the organization as a 503(c) nonprofit, submit paperwork for the appropriate permits in Jamaica, secure a domain name and build a website, and forge connections in the area to make the camp a reality.
The first successful, two-week day camp was held in the summer of 2018, followed by a second term a year later. In 2020, the camp was on hiatus due to COVID-19, but the co-founders are back planning the third camp to tentatively occur this summer, depending on the status of the pandemic.
Reinstein describes the goal of the camp as providing underserved girls the opportunity “to learn, exchange ideas, break down stereotypes, and have lots of fun building a mentorship network that will last a lifetime.” Through a Poetreef club at SHP she founded last year, Reinstein hopes to extend that network to the U.S., and build awareness of the camp at home. Club members have made friendship bracelets for the girls and are setting up a pen pal program for past Poetreef attendees in Jamaica to correspond with current SHP students.
The 10-15 Jamaican girls who attend each Poetreef camp hail from a public school in the Hanover Parish, Hopewell High School, where a counselor there provides an application. The camp is free for attendees, and covers all meals and daily transportation to and from their homes around the parish. The program offers daily journaling and reading time through a book club, guest speakers, and field trips such as cooking classes at a local restaurant, a waterfall hike, and horseback riding on the beach. During the camp, the two founders are known as counselors.
“We had this realization [while planning the camp] that it can’t just be two weeks of fun for the girls, we realized it needed to be a lot more, and it can’t come from us—two very privileged girls from America. They needed women mentors from their own culture,” said Reinstein. Girls in the area face the realities of high rates of poverty, sexual assault, and rape, which translates to increased teen pregnancy and diminished educational prospects, says Reinstein. To address this, Poetreef enlists professional women who serve as mentors and lead discussions.
“Last year we brought in three Jamaican women—a judge, a doctor, and an engineer—to show how they were able to break through the cycle, and that success is tangible,” said Reinstein. In addition, the camp features a group of mentors called “Women of Destiny,” to connect with the girls. “That is a very popular part of the camp,” says Reinstein, where the women share their personal stories, and explore difficult subjects including rape and abortion.
The future of the camp looks bright; two fundraisers held a year ago on the East Coast and West Coast that raised $10,000 will provide funding for the next term. The co-founders plan to continue operating the camp after they go to college and beyond. A current project is underway to collect enough used laptops and tablets to donate to Hopewell High School and supply each girl attending the camp with a device. Lack of computer literacy and the ability to type is “a major barrier to gaining employment” says Reinstein.
“We want to grow a network for these girls who are motivated and provide them with the tools to help make their dreams come true.”