BRANDON — Who are you?
That was the question of the week at the 2014 Teen Forum presented by the GFWC Brandon Junior Women's Club. More specifically, the club asked 15 middle school girls who they are when it comes to being wise, honest and original.
For 10 years, the GFWC Brandon Junior Women's Club has included helping young women shine in the community as part of its mission by conducting an annual summer camp for Brandon area girls.
This year's five-day camp at the Nativity Catholic Church Youth Center featured guest speakers in a variety of areas including personal safety, fitness and nutrition, professional communication and personal finance. The Teen Forum also included community service projects, arts and crafts, table etiquette, yoga and a fashion presentation.
"It's a way for us to give back to the community by empowering the young ladies of the community to strive for what they want," said club president Vi Zonfrelli. "We want them to know they can do anything they want. Our motto is 'Support and Inspire the Positive.' "
On Tuesday, Hillsborough County Sheriff Master Deputy Tammy Cuscaden talked to the group about a number of topics, from Internet safety to drugs and alcohol.
"You have to be very careful what you post online and who you text," said Cuscaden, a community resource officer with 27 years of experience. "It is important to know who you are talking to. If you don't know them, don't talk to them."
Cuscaden also talked about careers in law enforcement, telling campers that "it's a lot like the show Cops, but a lot more paperwork." She also stressed the importance of focusing on school no matter which career the girls choose.
"Education is the key to everything. Stay in school, stay involved in the community," said Cuscaden, before opening the floor to questions, which included how often Cuscaden uses her handcuffs (varies daily) and body vest (Always — "People shoot at us, if you can believe that.") and the most common Brandon area crime (car burglaries).
In addition to club activities and speakers, local businesses sponsor and contribute to the Teen Forum.
The Pottery Patch turned the camp craft room into a pottery studio on Monday and on Thursday representatives from Macy's Westfield Brandon talked about fashion trends and brought samples to show.
"I liked when the Macy's people came. They brought clothes to show us the different kind of stuff they had" said Sarah Mounce, 12, attending her second year of the Teen Forum.
"They also talked about beauty, like skin care if you have fair skin and colors to wear," said Ashley Lang, 11, who also enjoyed the opportunities for self-expression throughout the week. "I like the crafts and creativity, and the community projects," said Ashley, who is attending camp for the second year with her sister, Melanie, 13.
Because community service is important to the club, the campers work on a number of projects for Meals on Wheels, nursing homes, and underprivileged children in the Brandon area. All funds raised through the camp fund the club's annual Children's Holiday Party.
As much as they like the projects and fashion advice, all three girls enjoy the energy of the fitness activities.
"One of my favorite things from last year was fitness," Sarah said. "We did Zumba and it was so fun. All you're doing is dancing, but it's exercise. This year we get to do yoga."
Shannan D. Powell can be reached at [email protected]