Before Jane Chandler moved to France, where she ended up living for 22 years, she was in Baton Rouge as a young teacher, lobbying in support of the Equal Rights Amendment.
“I’ve always been a feminist,” she said. And she remembers how difficult it was to be a pre-teen and teen girl.
“It’s difficult for everyone,” Chandler said. It’s the one time in life when no one feels like they fit in, when everyone feels awkward and out of place and a time when even the smallest decisions seem monumental, everything overwhelms, and the end of high school seems like a million years away.
Chandler started off teaching this age group, she said, and though it was a rough start — she had a lot to learn about classroom management, especially considering she didn’t have a classroom at the time.
“I was a floating French teacher,” she said. “I didn’t even have a cart to move my equipment.”
It was something of a second adolescence for Chandler, and she always zoned in on the age group, especially girls of this age, because she always saw a need for a specific kind of education for them.
She wanted to teach girls how to speak their truth, how to make themselves heard in a world that has preconditioned them to be quiet, to people-please and to demure.
It’s not just about raising girls who are willing to speak up for themselves, Chandler said, it’s about teaching girls that not doing so can be dangerous for them.
Eventually, Chandler left France, and came back to Baton Rouge, where she began coordinating LSU study abroad programs.
One of the things she taught the women going overseas is how to assert themselves when and if they were aggressively pursued by men in their study abroad country. It happened all the time, she said.
She began envisioning a class to teach pre-teen girls to speak up, speak out and learn to get to know themselves.
Over the years, she talked to people she ran into about her idea.
She began collecting information, data, studies and names of people she ran across who also thought the idea was appealing. All the while, her plan was to keep collecting until she retired, and then, she would develop the program.
“Well, I retired,” Chandler said.
She began developing the program she’d dreamed of and began calling the names on her list. Within a relatively short period of time — so short, in fact, Chandler said she believes God had a hand in pulling it together — she had a place — The Gardere Initiative — and funding, through the South Burbank Crime Prevention District.
She called it Camp UNITED (Uplifted, Nurtured, and Inspired Together Each Day) but plans to change the name to reflect what she believes it to be — a high school preparatory program.
“We’re not just doing cut-and-paste crafts, we’re teaching them to speak their own truth,” she said.
The program had five graduates this year: Stormy Tatney, 12; Ja’myria Smith, 12; Jeann Hayes, 13; Fredricka Anderson, 12; and Vanisca Dixon, 12.
“This was a pilot program, and I hope to refine it and bring it back next year,” Chandler said. She also hopes to expand the program to offer something similar to adult women.
Camp UNITED focused on personal power, the power of teams and the power of service, Chandler said.
“The key person who helped me develop the program and pull it off is Karen Lee, president of the South Burbank Crime Prevention and Development District,” Chandler said in an email, “... She completely embraced this project and helped me tailor subject matter specifically to the target audience.”
She also said Kyra Luckett, of the YWCA, and Desiree Alexander, media librarian and teacher at Zachary High School, were key advisers.