Are you going to be fabulous today, or are you going to let everything else get in the way?
It’s a question Gallatin senior Lauren Berninger poses for many young girls struggling with self-esteem and confidence issues. It’s also a question she often asks herself.
Berninger is the founder and director of Finding the Fabulous, a summer camp and monthly outreach program helping girls ages eight to 12 find their inner beauty and build confidence.
Growing up as a pastor’s daughter in Lincoln Park, N.J., Berninger said she often found herself surrounded by the children of her community. She heard younger girls frequently discuss problems with dieting and the desire for the ideal bikini body.
Troubled by the dangers associated with negative body image, Berninger began researching. She discovered that 70 percent of girls will avoid normal daily activities, such as going to school, if they don’t feel good about the way they look.
“It just knocked me over,” Berninger said.
When she was 18, Berninger founded a week-long summer camp with intensive workshops to explore these issues.
After beginning with just 12 campers, Finding the Fabulous has now grown to host approximately 60 girls. A monthly Fabulous Sisterhood outreach program touches an extra few hundred each year. In 2013, Berninger will launch the Fabulous Ambassador program to spread the camp’s message across the country and welcome the inaugural camp’s graduates back as counselors.
Berninger said she has learned just as much from the girls as they do from her.
“It’s given me a confidence that I can impart to these girls and say ‘Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Your ideas are worth something and there is value to that,’” she said.
Berninger has worked closely with Gallatin Writing Program director and professor Dr. June Foley, who helped Berninger complete a guidebook for camp counselors as an independent study project.
“She’s an extraordinary young woman with vision, and what’s even rarer, the ability follow through and bring a project to fruition and even develop it over time,” Foley said.
In addition to serving as director of Finding the Fabulous, Berninger commutes daily from New Jersey and works five days a week for women’s media brand ClaudiaChan.com, which is a site dedicated to informing, inspiring and igniting women to have positive feelings about themselves.
“It’s a lot of making lists,” Berninger said about keeping her schedule orderly. “I have lists everywhere, in my pocket, on my computer, on my phone, taped to my wall. And at the end of the day, I just always tell myself, ‘you can handle it.’”
Studying at Gallatin helps, too. The opportunity to apply schoolwork to her real-world pursuits attracted her to the school and makes balancing school and Finding the Fabulous more rewarding.
After graduation, Berningner plans to continue working on Finding the Fabulous and to pursue a Master’s degree in poetry.
“It’s going to take sacrifice. I’m not going to be bringing home a huge paycheck at the end of every week, but right now that’s OK,” she said. “I think it’s important enough, and I think other people will see its importance and want to get involved with that.”
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 18 print edition. Carrie Courogen is a senior editor. Email her at email@example.com.
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