At “Camp CEO,” Charito Kruvant shows girl scouts how to fly

By Jennifer Brookland

August 20, 2013

Photos by: Creative Associates International

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Around a collapsible table in the Camp Winona lodge, the girls tip their heads over folded pieces of orange paper, writing down their flaws. “My asthma that keeps me out of sports,” writes one. “My ADHD,” writes another. “My quickness to judge.”

Charito Kruvant, President and CEO of Creative Associates International, listens to the litany of imperfections, and rejects them one by one.

She teases out the flip side to each girl’s perceived faults: The girl who wheezes on the basketball court yet impresses on the clarinet.

“So you having what might be a problem is making you the beautiful artist that you are,” Kruvant says to the girl. In Kruvant’s eyes, the girl with ADHD is a creative thinker, full of energy and promise, the judgmental one a high achiever who holds others to similarly lofty standards.

“We all have the ability to go one way or the other,” Kruvant tells the girls. “Like a pendulum, we can make a choice to be happy, and be who we want to be.”

Charito is at Camp Winona in southern Maryland to show these Girl Scouts that they can be not just happy, but also self-affirming and successful. The weeklong “Camp CEO” brings female professional leaders from the Washington, D.C., area to share their wisdom and have some fun with high school sophomores, juniors and rising seniors over talks in the lodge and canoe trips on the lake.

“At Creative we do so much work with communities and girls, and the future of girls, but most of that work is abroad,” Charito says. “To be with these girls is so energizing, and I feel the joy of belonging to a larger community. It’s a way of giving back.”

Charito remarks at the pressure girls in the Washington D.C. area are under these days—to perform in school, do countless activities and get into a great college. Although her work at Creative brings her to communities dealing with painful issues like extreme poverty and violence, she says the challenges these girls face can be just as agonizing.

After a career spent in education and later as the founder and current CEO of a global development company working in more than 20 countries, Charito is not one to discourage the high school girls from pursuing greatness. But, as she told them in a talk called “dreaming your future” before they bunked down in cabins for the night, it takes hard work, perseverance and a positive attitude.

Sharing lessons from her own life, Charito has already inspired girls at this year’s camp.

“Here I am, having the same aspirations that they had,” says Nina, a rising sophomore from Virginia who plays on a travel soccer team and says one day she’d like to be the CEO of an organization that helps people. “It’s been really cool because you realize how similar they are to you.”

Charito was paired with Nina as her “buddy”—a way to encourage lasting mentorship between each girl and CEO. Coincidentally, both Charito and Nina are dyslexic, and the younger buddy says seeing someone who has been so successful in her career despite that limitation makes Charito a role model.

“It’s very touching to have her here,” Nina says.

She wonders why busy professionals like Charito take the time to visit them at Camp Winona. “Would I be the kind of person willing to spend 36 hours in the wilderness sharing wisdom with a bunch of girls?,” she asks. “I hope I will be.”

Nina expected Camp CEO to be more directive: This is what you do to get here. But instead, she says Charito encouraged Nina to be herself, work hard and make her own path.

When Nina starts working on her college applications soon, she says she’ll think back to the stories she heard from Charito about not giving up, and to remind herself that she can be successful.

Around the lodge table, Charito tells Nina and the other girls to open green spiral-bound notebooks that sit in stacks, waiting to hold their thoughts and secrets. As part of this introduction to journaling, she tells them to start writing a letter to themselves.

When she was 15, Charito guesses she would have written to herself about sports and her own physical competitiveness.

If she were writing a letter today to her 15 year-old self, her message would be different: Don’t be afraid of winning.

“It’s okay to do things differently from the others,” she would tell herself. “You didn’t give up, and it was a good idea not to give up.”

Charito says she used to compete in the long jump and the high jump when she was these girls’ age. “I thought I knew how to fly,” she says. “Well, now I know how to fly.”

Charito is 67 years old, but in the half-century separating her from these high schoolers, she seems to have traded zero vitality for those years of wisdom.

Springing up from the lodge table, she circles around to each girl, prompting them to pretend they are in a cleansing shower as they repeat affirmations about themselves. “I am strong! I’m energetic! I’m focused and creative!” chirps a lanky girl in cargo shorts as Charito runs her fingers over her head in a simulated stream of water.

It elicits giggles from the girls, who are awkward in responding to her unexpected willingness to move around. She thrusts her torso upward as she tells them to stretch their throats and speak up for themselves. Suddenly, she’s convinced two girls to spot her as she launches into a backbend.

Shrieks of laughter bounce off the beams of the lodge as all the girls are standing now, bending and craning. Even the other CEOs join Charito in a half-stretch, half-affirmation: balanced on one foot, they smile and struggle to balance as they reach their arms and extend their limbs.

Kruvant says they are practicing their flying.

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