MS. REBECCA SHEIR
So this weekend brings the first official day of summer. Right? And for many, many kids around the region, summertime means summer camp. And there are all sorts of camps out there. You've got drama camps, you've got sports camps, you've got science camps, but five years ago a local woman named Kelly Murray created a camp with a very specific aim, boosting the self-esteem of young girls. The psychologist, professor and mother of six died in a car crash in 2009. But as Jacob Fenston reports, her husband and close friends are carrying on her legacy.
MR. JACOB FENSTON
On June 26, 2009, the D.C. area was sweltering through a summer heat wave, but a cold front was heading east across the country. The National Weather Service issued a severe storm watch for that afternoon.
MR. JOHN MURRAY
I was at work. And my wife and my daughters were at swim practice. She was actually helping out a pasta dinner for the swim team.
That's John Murray.
My daughters were all involved, and are still involved, in swim team. And, you know, it started to storm. They gathered up, you know, all the pasta dinner accoutrement and sort of piled into our minivan and were headed home because the storm was quite severe. She was stuck at a traffic light at the corner of Connecticut and East-West Highway, a strong wind came, sort of blew over an oak tree, and it landed on the minivan.
Murray's wife Kelly and their 7-year-old daughter, Sloane, were pinned under the tree.
A friend called and said, “There's been an accident. You really should go to the hospital." And he was very sort of nondescript.
Kelly and Sloane died before rescuers arrived. Their deaths reverberated through Kelly's wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Hundreds of people attended the funeral in northwest D.C.
She had a tremendous energy, and it wasn't just an energy for things she wanted to do. It was energy for other people. You know, a lot of her friends felt like, you know, that she was their very best friend. And when you have that through multitudes of people, suddenly you recognize that it's, you know, something unique to that individual that can sort of connect with that many people.
MS. DEBRA SOLTIS
I think you can take a resume approach to her. I don't think it does her any justice, but the resume is incredible, psychologist, author, professor.
Debra Soltis was a close friend of Kelly's.
I think it's easy to look at somebody like Kelly and use labels like supermom. And I find them in some ways dismissive of what was really going on. That implies busy and juggling, which of course is, on the surface, what it was. But the purpose of helping girls find their own voice was, I believe, fueled by this deeper purpose, not just a busy life.
When Kelly Murray died she was in the middle of preparing for a second summer of the girls empowerment camp she had started in 2008 called GirlsUp.
So that program was scheduled to begin about a week after the funeral. So I got Kelly's notes, some of her handwritten notes and began to develop he curriculum. And went in that week and led the session.
Soltis is now the executive director of GirlsUp. The camp, which kicks off in early July this summer, is aimed at preteen girls.
Helping girls figure out who they are before the world comes along and tells them who they should be.
The program helps girls build confidence before they hit those middle school and high school years that can be so tough.
There are a lot of disheartening studies out there that show that girls' self esteem peaks around age 9, and doesn't resurface for, at best, a decade later.
Since Murray's death, GirlsUp has gone from serving just a handful of kids to around 100 this summer. But Soltis says it's still Kelly's program.
I always feel particularly connected to Kelly when the program is running because I can sort of hear her voice in there.
John Murray, who serves as president of GirlsUp, says the program also helps him and his daughters feel closer to Kelly.
Just this July, my 10-year-old, who was, you know, 6 at the time, will go to GirlsUp for the first time. At the time of the accident, you know, my older daughters had already been through it once. But this will be the first year that Maeve will be able to go through it, and experience sort of some of what her mother was thinking about how she, you know, would like her to live her life, and how she would like to approach, you know, the issues that girls face.
Still, it's bittersweet each summer when the GirlsUp camp rolls around.
Bittersweet would be an understatement.
He says it's great to watch the program grow each year, but it's also the anniversary of the tragic accident.
It's not part of your life plan that you're suddenly thrust into being a single father to five daughters, ages, you know, at the time my youngest was 9 months and my oldest was 12. The way I sort of described it, I feel like, you know, our wagon was attacked. Sort of our stuff was strewn all over the prairie, but at some point you say, you know what, our journey doesn't end here. So let's throw all our stuff back into our covered wagon and proceed onto wherever we're going to go.
I'm Jacob Fenston.
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