Leading the way

Brooklyn Wheeler Raney ’07

Find your passion, declare your passion, and lead others in that direction by setting an example and fully committing to your vision. This is the final piece of advice that Brooklyn Wheeler Raney ’07 offers in her list of 13 must-do’s for young women to live a life of joy, success, and self-worth.

As founder of Girls’ Leadership Camp in Meriden, N.H., and a motivational speaker for women’s groups nationwide, Raney aims to help shape the future generation of female leaders.

The weeklong camp for sixth- to ninth-graders is jam-packed with programming that helps girls define their personal values, communicate effectively, be positive digital citizens, maintain a healthy self-image, achieve goals, resolve conflicts, and build relationships. They also learn outdoor skills like using a compass and are assigned confidence-boosting projects like building a picnic table on their own.

Brooklyn Wheeler Raney '07Raney believes her own self-confidence started with her involvement in theater at Colgate, which she fell into when her roommate needed a backup actor for a children’s theater production.

“I couldn’t believe how much I loved the theater,” Raney recalled. In fact, it became her major. Also a goalie for the women’s hockey team, Raney balanced her student-athlete responsibilities by practicing her lines while she was in the net.

She went on to pursue her master’s in educational theater at New York University, where her first class was exploring social conflicts through drama. “It blew my mind the way people can use theater and role playing to connect to one another and work through an issue,” Raney said.

At the time, she was also nannying a 9-year-old girl who was struggling with low self-esteem. That experience inspired her to use theater as a tool to help young women.

After graduation, Raney’s own high school, Culver Academies in Indiana, hired her as a residential curriculum coordinator. In addition, she began public speaking, traveling to high schools to talk to young women and lead workshops.

In 2010, Raney’s former Colgate hockey teammate and roommate, Ashley Johnston ’07, a teacher at Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire, invited her to speak for National Girls and Women in Sports Day. While there, she learned that an assistant dean of students position was open, so she ended up doing an impromptu interview that day. She not only got the job (and has since been promoted to dean), but also was encouraged to pursue an idea she had for a program specifically for girls.

A camp, it seemed to Raney, would allow girls to have a week away from their everyday environments and allow them to explore their identities.

At the beginning of Girls’ Leadership Camp, each girl is given a leadership log in which she sets goals and begins developing a leadership creed. In that creed, the girls have to think of how they would like to make a difference.

“That seems like a big task when you talk to them at the beginning of the week,” Raney admitted, but after the workshops and daily talks about how to make change, it’s a mind-set the girls adopt by the end.

About to embark on its fourth year, the camp has grown from 13 campers to a goal of 60 for this summer. As it has evolved, so have Raney’s responsibilities as director. But, she still makes time to lead workshops, watch activities, and be with the girls during evening circle time.

The payoff comes, Raney said, when she receives letters from parents “who are amazed how their daughter was transformed during the week,” as well as the campers themselves. Becca, an eighth-grader from Maine, wrote: “GLC encouraged me to find my voice and express myself.” She ended her letter with the camp motto: “I am who I am.”

— Aleta Mayne