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The Mission

Building socially just community with girls, transgender youth, and gender expansive youth by developing leadership, fostering self-esteem, and encouraging creative expression through music.

Through our music education programs for girls and transgender & gender expansive youth ages 8 to 16, we are committed to educating girls and TGNC youth about the musical, technical, and creative aspects involved in musicianship because we believe that they are rarely encouraged to explore self-expressive creative outlets and are less likely to be given access to musical and technical instruction or equipment. We believe that music can be a crucial tool in allowing youth to respond to preconceived notions of what they can do and what they can become.

Our Core Values

We value diversity and inclusion; we seek to represent the demographics of Chicago and reflect the community we serve in all aspects of our organization.

We value the power of music as a vessel for culture and beliefs, and we use it to create personal and social change.

We value curiosity; we practice reflection and recognize the importance of pushing our learning and thinking in an ever-changing world.

We value equity in all forms; we stand strong in our unwavering commitment to social justice and anti-oppression work.

We value building leadership; we seek to play an active role in developing and empowering the next generation of youth who are doing important work in their communities.

We value efforts that actively expand opportunities for girls, women, gender expansive people, and transgender people of all ages.

We value empathy and compassion; we are dedicated to sustaining a supportive community and seek to understand the experiences of all our constituents.

Girls 
Rock! Chicago History

The first Girls Rock! Chicago Camp

Girls Rock! Chicago was founded in the Fall of 2005 when two groups of like-minded women, both seeking to start a Chicago camp, found each other and combined resources. GR!C formed a 9-member board, organized fundraisers, collected gear donations, secured a space at Roosevelt University, and held our first annual camp in August 2006. Our first camp featured a small group of dedicated volunteers and 16 enthusiastic campers between the ages of 8-16.

The Board of Directors

  • Melissa Oglesby (she/her)

    Co-Chair & Treasurer

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    Melissa began playing music at age 8 with the clarinet, had brief run-ins with guitar and piano and eventually settled into drums. She became interested in DIY culture in her formative years and began publishing zines at the age of 14. When writing about independent music was no longer enough, in true DIY fashion, she started making her own, regardless of musical ability. When she’s not advocating for women and girls, she can often be found in the company of cats, bikes and baked goods.

  • Danielle Sines (she/her)

    Board Member

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    Danielle Sines is a singer-songwriter for local Chicago band, Impulsive Hearts. She started playing piano at five, rebelled against studying classical music and picked up a guitar as a tween in her awesome band, Seven Gallon Sparkle. Now, she sings, shouts, plays guitar and piano, and records noises on tape recorders for her band, Impulsive Hearts.

    When she’s not dreaming up summery tunes, she’s working as a marriage and family therapist, or DJing at CHIRP Radio.

  • Mare Ralph (they/them)

    Board Member

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    Mare Ralph grew up in greater Chicagoland and began playing guitar at age fourteen. Like many LGBTQ youth, they struggled throughout adolescence – with depression, substance abuse, and other self-destructive behavior. Music was a lifeline and a way to express and process those difficult feelings.

    Mare’s life revolved around playing music and touring until their band was in a van accident in 2009. While recovering, music took a backseat as they discovered other passions and graduated from DePaul University in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education.

    They moved to Louisville KY in 2014 and fell in love with girls rock camps, recognizing that their teenage experience makes them completely, uniquely qualified to support girls, trans youth, and gender-nonconforming youth in finding their creative selves and feeling whole. Mare organized with Girls Rock Louisville since its founding in a variety of roles. While in Louisville, they also worked with disconnected youth as a teacher, advocate, and restorative justice facilitator.

    Mare is currently a pursuing a Master’s in Urban Planning and Policy at UIC’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs. They are excited to be back home and able to gain new skills organizing with Girls Rock! Chicago.They believe that music is a tool of community building through creative expression and that joy is a revolutionary force.

  • Laura Swanlund (she/her)

    Co-Chair & Secretary

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    Laura hails from lil’ Freeport, Illinois, where she picked up the work ethic and rebellious spirit that only a small-town upbringing can provide. She started playing piano at the age of 8 and began her training in classical harp two years later. More recently, she’s taken on the pedal steel guitar. Laura earned her Ph.D in School Psychology from Loyola University and her M.A. in Educational Leadership from Concordia. She is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and works as a school district administer for academic and social-emotional prevention and intervention supports. Laura is an adjunct university instructor and teaches graduate courses ranging from evidence-based practices for children with special needs to applied research and statistics. Other interests include vintage clothes, playing guitar in the forest, backcountry camping, road trips, and the little things in life.

  • Ann Panopio (she/her, they/them)

    Board Member

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    Music has always been a part of Ann’s life, as a fan and playing a few instruments joyfully and haphazardly. Ann currently does design and construction oversight for non-profits and enjoys reading, crafting, and exploring the city on bike and foot in her free time.

    She feels GR!C is an incredible organization because it gives young people different perspectives and tools to express their ideas.

  • Elise Castro (she/her)

    Board Member

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    Elise grew up in Davenport, Iowa, and her two grandmothers (a pianist and a vocalist) sparked her interest in music really early on. She still remembers that one kindergarten class where she was able to match pitch for the first time. Through piano lessons, voice lessons, choirs, show choirs, musicals, etc., Elise eventually found herself at Indiana University as a member of the Singing Hoosiers and Ladies First A Cappella, while majoring in business. Since graduating, when not working as a digital marketing consultant in Chicago, Elise has given private voice lessons, performs when she can and loves attending various concerts/festivals throughout the city.

    She is so excited to be on the board for GR!C and provide opportunities for other youth in the city to have the same connection she did with music early on, which has been such a foundational element for her life and a beautiful source of inspiration and support.

Staff

  • Madeline Leahy (she/her)

    Operations Manager

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    Madeline grew up in a small, dull suburb southwest of Chicago. Her deep love of music was clear by age 5 when she would sing the National Anthem and “The 12 Days of Christmas,” and insisted on starting from the beginning when her older sister interrupted her, pleading with her to stop.

    Inspired by Lisa Simpson, Madeline briefly played saxophone in grade school until her father deemed it too loud to play in the house. Eventually, she earned a Bachelor of Music degree in the Contemporary, Urban, and Popular music program at Columbia College Chicago where she honed her songwriting and vocal performance skills.

    Madeline came to Girls Rock! Chicago first as an instrument instructor in guitar and keyboard and as a band coach. She soon found herself wanting to help at camp by looking after GR!C’s gear.

    In her position as a Gear Coordinator at Girls Rock! Chicago, Madeline seeks to foster the creativity and self esteem of girls, trans, and gender nonconforming youth by amplifying their voices and instruments in a world in which they’re often dampened.

  • Fallon McDermott (she/her)

    Gear Coordinator

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    Fallon was born in St. Peters, Missouri but quickly moved to Chicago when she was 10. Her love of music comes from her father, playing keys to accompany his bass listening to his jazz and rock collection. Fallon learned classical clarinet in grade school and tenor saxophone in high school. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies from Columbia College Chicago and lends her talent as a multi-instrumentalist in Chicago-based band, Impulsive Hearts.

    Fallon joined Girls Rock! Chicago in 2016 as a counselor and keys instructor and joined staff in 2018 as one of our Gear Coordinators. She loves this organization, the people, and the empowerment of youth GR!C provides to its campers.

  • Kate Stanley (she/her)

    Outreach Coordinator

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    Kate Stanley is a Chicago native who grew up on the northwest side of the city. In high school, Kate was involved in choir, theater, and guitar lessons. In college, Kate earned her BA in Secondary English Education and MS in Special Education and currently works as a special education teacher.

    She has volunteered with GR!C since 2018 and joined staff as a Volunteer Coordinator in 2020. Kate is excited for her new staff role as Outreach Coordinator, developing opportunities and relationships with businesses and artists throughout Chicago. She enjoys learning guitar and playing open mics, yoga, and traveling in her free time.

  • Malone Simmons (she/her)

    Volunteer Coordinator

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    The newest member of the GR!C team, Malone is a recent graduate of Loyola University Chicago with a B.A. in music. As a child of a music educator, she grew up in Columbia, Missouri surrounded by music before attending school in Chicago. Malone is currently a Recess and After-school teacher and enjoys going to jazz shows and playing the guitar in her free time. Malone loves working with youth and is excited to be an organizer for youth arts programs with Girls Rock! Chicago.

  • Giulia Chiappetta (she/her, they/them)

    Program & Communications Coordinator

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    Giulia Chiappetta grew up in a very musical household in the Bay Area, playing a variety of instruments including clarinet, saxophone, piano and guitar. It wasn’t until she attended Oberlin College, however, that she discovered her love of singing and songwriting. Giulia graduated with a degree in English and relocated to Chicago in early 2021.

    Since then, she has been working with the Chicago Symphony; she also worked as Events Coordinator for Full Spectrum Features. She performs and produces her own music mononymously as “Giulia,” collaborating with other musicians across the country. She loves making art, working with young people, and cares deeply about Girls! Rock’s mission and values.

  • Lily Everett (they/them)

    Gear Coordinator

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    Lily Everett is a multi-instrumentalist and a former camper of Girls Rock! Chicago. They are currently a sophomore at University of Chicago, double-majoring in Comparative Human Development and East Asian Languages and Civilizations. They also sing in a campus a cappella group called Unaccompanied Women! Lily loves teaching people of all ages how to play instruments and they are so excited to be part of the staff at GR!C. Lily has taught bass, bands, and other instruments at GR!C and they bring extensive gear knowledge to our team.

  • Megan Ammer-Barefield (she/her)

    Youth Action Coordinator

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    Megan is a social worker, currently working in community mental health, with a passion for community and justice work. Megan began volunteering with Girls Rock! Chicago in 2017 as a camp counselor and joined staff as a Volunteer Coordinator in 2020.
    Megan is excited to work more closely with our youth in 2022 as Youth Action Coordinator, organizing and facilitating our Youth Action Committee in mutual aid initiatives.

    Megan enjoys reading, crocheting, and playing cozy video games. For Megan, GR!C has meant finding community. With limited musical background but a sense for people, GR!C allowed Megan to find a voice, find a place, and take up space. As staff, GR!C has given Megan the opportunity to connect our youth with community and justice work, while finding their voices.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When will the camp dates be announced?

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    We usually announce the camp dates in mid-March. We have to coordinate with three main venues from which we rent our camp space (Chicago Public Schools, our showcase venue, and our recording studio) and around two major festivals to secure our dates. We choose dates that won’t put our own in showcases in conflict with Pitchfork Music Festival and Lollapalooza, and that means we have to wait for those dates to be announced in the late fall/early winter.

  • Who can attend rock camp?

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    We welcome campers and volunteers who are girls (cis or trans), transgender youth (of any identity), and gender-nonconforming/non-binary youth. If you’re unsure if that umbrella covers you, just ask! We will meet you with kindness and respect. Additionally, we trust you to identify yourself/your child and do NOT require any “proof” of your gender.

  • What’s the point of rock camp?

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    Girls Rock! Chicago is all about breaking down stereotypes, creating a supportive and encouraging environment, taking creative risks, and creating positive social change in our community.

  • Do you need music experience to attend camp or other programs?

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    No! No music experience is required for Girls Rock! Chicago programming. Music is for everyone.

  • Can I attend more than one session of camp?

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    Unfortunately, no. We can only admit campers to one session per year.

  • Can my child bring their acoustic guitar to camp?

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    No, we only use electric instruments at camp. Campers are welcome to bring their own electric bass or guitar, but we also provide instruments for every child.

  • Can my child record their song at x time at the recording studio?

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    We are able to accept a limited number of scheduling requests for our recording day, but we cannot guarantee any specific time slots. We start drafting the recording schedule on roughly the second day of camp since campers record with their entire band (which is formed on the first day of camp). Before we accommodate scheduling requests, we have to first group all of our bands with lefty drummers at the beginning or end of the day and then ensure that siblings are grouped together so that families don’t have to make multiple trips to the recording studio. That doesn’t always leave us with room for adjustments, and we sometimes receive vastly different requests in the same band. We try our best, but it’s incredibly helpful for us if families leave their schedules open on our recording day of camp.

  • Can you make sure my camper is in a band with their friends?

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    We take requests such as this into consideration when facilitating band formation, but ultimately leave the decision of who will be in a band up to the campers. If you are concerned that your camper will be grouped into a band with someone they don’t get along with, please reach out to us! We take care to ensure that campers talk with each other and meet new people with respect and openness. Keep in mind that an important part of the camp experience is learning to make new friends and collaborate with people whose perspectives and experiences may be different from their own. We strive to create a welcoming and inclusive environment to all campers and strongly encourage everyone at camp (youth and adults alike) to engage with new friends as much as possible. Please note that our band formation process occurs at camp with all campers present, so pre-forming bands is not possible.

  • Do you offer private lessons?

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    We don’t offer private lessons at this time, but we do have a referral list including many of our camp volunteers! Please send us an email at info@girlsrockchicago.org to learn.

  • When will the camp application open? How will I know?

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    The camp application will open approximately two weeks after the camp dates are announced. Returning campers get advance notice via email. We send out a notice to our entire mailing list and also post on our blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

  • Why no cis-boys/men?

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    Girls and trans youth face unique challenges and oppressions in their lives due to their gender identities. We want to create a uniquely safe space that supports, uplifts, and cares for people of all marginalized gender identities while allowing them to take creative risks and form strong bonds with their peers, as well as inspire our participants to create change in their communities.

  • Besides music, what else do you teach?

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    We host workshops at camp and in other programs that focus on topics related to playing and composing music with a band, building self-esteem, and exploring what it means to be a girl or transperson making music. Past workshops have included song-writing, performance and stage presence, DIY effect pedals, DIY recording, media literacy, gender and inclusion, the history of women in rock, art and activism, and t-shirt surgery. Each camp session, we lead a one hour-long workshop that explores the question “What’s with the ‘girl’ in Girls Rock! Chicago?” The objective of this workshop is to provide campers with a basic understanding of gender, and how that relates to and impacts one’s experience in the world, especially in terms of oppression, bullying, and self-esteem. The full curriculum is available at www.girlsrockchicago.org.

  • Do I have to be a musician to volunteer?

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    No! Experience as a musician is appreciated for some roles like instrument instructor, but not required for roles such as band coach, counselor, roadie, and others.

  • Why doesn’t Girls Rock! Chicago have a vocals track?

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    We want every camper to have the opportunity to learn to play a traditional rock instrument. We offer vocal workshops and provide each camper with the opportunity to sing in their band if they so choose.

  • Can my child perform first or last at the showcase?

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    Unfortunately, we are unable to accept any scheduling requests for the showcase. We structure the lineup in a loose age order so that it flows cohesively and also so that our graduating bands can “headline,” so to speak. We typically do not develop the lineup until the Friday afternoon of each camp week following dress rehearsal so that staff can get a good sense of what each band sounds like. It is critical that families leave the showcase day open from 9 AM – 3 PM.

  • When will the CDs be ready?

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    It usually takes about six months after camp for us to create the camp CDs and prepare them for families. It’s a long process! First, our recording engineers mix the tracks, and then another company has to master the tracks. We also have to create the art for the CDs and CD jackets. Once we have the mastered tracks and art, we send them off to a CD duplication company to manufacture our CDs and wait for them to be shipped to us. Then we have to plan a CD release party at our office. Whew!

  • I wish I had this when I was a kid!

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    We’ve got the next best thing: Let’s Rock! Camp for adults! This is just like camp, but held over four days (Feb 16 – 19) at Josephinum Academy in Wicker Park. The application will open November 16th.

  • I’m a cisgender man, how can I help Girls Rock! Chicago?

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    There’s room for everyone to help at Girls Rock! Chicago! Cisgender men (who cannot volunteer during our programs) are welcome to volunteer at our office, during load-in, at special events such as the Annual Autumn Auction, on our Advisory Board, or on our Board of Directors. Cisgender men can also help us out by donating gear, cash, or setting up benefit events!

Annual Reports