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November 30th, 2005 Toby Van Fleet | News Stories
 

Rock Camp Blues

Is the founder of Portland's popular Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls being drummed out?

     
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Two different tunes are playing at the locally popular and nationally chronicled Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls.

Misty McElroy, who founded the camp five years ago as her senior project at Portland State University, tells WW she resigned Nov. 8 as executive director, a move she attributes to pressure from the camp's four-member board.

"The environment was so hostile that I had no choice," she says.

Board member Stacy Chamberlain says the board has never tried to push McElroy out.

In the protective shadow of Inga Muscio, McElroy's girlfriend and author of the book Cunt: A Declaration of Independence, McElroy chose her words cautiously in an interview. She says she'd been running the camp single-handedly with little support, and couldn't continue.

While she was careful not to implicate the board—"I don't want to start a shitstorm"—she wouldn't concede that the board was even "functioning," let alone helping her with such basics as fundraising.

The Portland nonprofit offers summer-camp and after-school programs for girls under 18 focused on instrument instruction, songwriting and band how-to's, plus workshops on everything from self-defense to body image to zines.

The originality and success of the camp has consistently attracted national media: The Village Voice, The Austin Chronicle and SPIN.com, among others. According to its tax forms, the camp attracted more than 1,000 girls in 2004, and McElroy says the camp turned away 300-some girls this past summer.

At 36, with dark roots barely visible under bleached blond hair swept forward in waves around her freckled face, McElroy says her life since 2000 has been all about the camp, about the girls. "I've put my guitar down and put it in their hands,'' she says, "literally my own guitar."

McElroy believes that recent events in her personal life fueled the board to pressure her to step down. She says she has a stalker who stabbed her in the shoulder with a screwdriver in October 2004 at the otherwise empty camp site, a warehouse space on Northeast Vancouver Way.

Deane Funk, the newest board member and a camper dad, says he knows little about any attack or stalker, and calls any board pressure alleged by McElroy "a figment of her imagination."

As Funk sees it, the board had been working with McElroy to clean up the organization's accounting system, among other things. He says the board repeatedly asked McElroy for financial documents that McElroy never produced.

"There's no Machiavellian plot to take over," he explains, adding that an exploration of the matter will prove that the board has been judicious and patient.

The camp's 2004 tax forms show McElroy reporting an annual salary—for the first time—of $33,250, and 80-hour work weeks. That same form shows the camp with a balance of more than $15,000, despite running an $11,000 deficit last year.

McElroy's attorney, Joe Mabe, cryptically puts his client's resignation into question, saying, "It's not my position that there's been a change in leadership at the camp."

McElroy says she's devastated by the turmoil. "This is my identity,'' she says. "I'm gonna fight for this camp. It's my intellectual property."

Both sides in the dispute say the young girls' interests are paramount. The board's Chamberlain says the camp will keep rocking with "a very strong base of volunteers and support." And McElroy is starting another nonprofit, Rock Power for Girls, with the same goals.

"It wouldn't kill anyone to have more than one self-reliance program for girls in Portland," she says.

"I just want people to know that in the future, Rock 'n' Roll Camp in Portland, Oregon, is not my camp," she says. "This is really ugly right now. But in the end, if it sparks more awareness and more people really willing to step up to the plate and get involved in girls' lives, it can't be bad."

 
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