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Five reasons to love the sound of Girls Rock!

Daphne Simmons sings her song, "I'm Nervous" at xBK in Des Moines following the Girls Rock songwriters' retreat.
Catherine Wheeler
Iowa Public Radio
Daphne Simmons sings her song, "I'm Nervous" at xBK in Des Moines following the Girls Rock songwriters' retreat.

We asked Iowa singer/songwriter Kat Darling, a music coach with Girls Rock! DSM, to write about why she makes time to volunteer.

Girls Rock! is an organization that focuses on providing yearlong programming and opportunities for underrepresented youth ages 8 - 18 through a variety of programs and events, with the summer Rock Camps being one of the most popular.

I’m a volunteer band coach in Des Moines, and I love this organization and how it’s empowering youth. There’s a lot of growth happening right now, and I want more people to know about it! Here are 5 reasons I love (and you should know about!) this non-profit.

I also want to note that our second musical showcase of the summer is happening Friday, July 22 at Wooly's in Des Moines. I hope to see you there!

The GR!DSM family

“I see a lot of representation, a lot of people I really vibe with. It’s a loving open space, and that is a cool thing,” said Abileen, a camper reflecting on her time at camp this year.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure here, Abileen is my daughter, and she attended the 2022 Girls Rock Des Moines (GR!DSM) July Rock Camp. She is performing at the July showcase at Wooly’s playing bass and singing and her band was called the Mini Cowboys. I am a band coach and get the opportunity to lead a band through the process of naming their band, learning a cover song, writing an original song and recording it. I am also leading the Songwriting and Collaboration workshop. My husband, Aaron Short, and son, Rockwell, support us at camp by being the “Rad Dad and Rockwell Delivery Service,” and they make sure that our lunch gets delivered.

For us, GR!DSM is a family thing, a place where we get to support each other.

We’re making music and change at the same time

GR!DSM is Rock and Roll and so much more! My band that I am coaching this year is a group of 8-9 year olds that chose the band name Crazy Downtown and wrote an original song called “The Planet’s Gone Crazy.” Connecting to real feelings and creating is therapeutic. Giving youth the permission to explore their own emotions and presenting music as a tool to process these emotions, is productive and inspirational.

Just 5% of the music industry is represented by women and non-binary people. At GR!DSM, they are trying to move the needle and show the campers what it looks like to perform music, learn the production of music, write and record songs and give them the power to see themselves in the music industry.

Growing community

With the help of other local community organizations, volunteer grant writers and motivated music lovers, youth can attend this camp through scholarships. GR!DSM also partners and hosts events in and around our community and provides year round programming and performances. That means young musicians have the chance to perform for a live audience on a regular basis. Every summer the bands have the chance to perform at 80/35 Music Festival, the Des Moines Arts Fest, Waukee Arts Fest and more. Each month during the school year an open mic is held at xBk.

GR!DSM was chosen by Confluence Brewing Company as their Local Cause for Confluence for 2022. That means they’ve created a special brew and design called Modern Muse just for Girls Rock! If you’re reading along thinking that you want to meet more music minded female folx, come celebrate Muse Fest on July 30 at Confluence Brewing Company between 1 – 9 p.m.

Investing in future leaders

This effort has stood the test of time for nearly 10 years now.

Since 2013, GR!DSM has been led by the most passionate creative individuals I’ve met in our community. Beginning and growing from the initial executive director leadership of Rae Fehring, evolving and sustaining through the pandemic under the direction of Sara Routh and now reaching new development under Rachel Gulick, this group has been serving underrepresented people of all ages. It also has and continues to offer mentorship and guidance to young people who want to work in all parts of the industry --- on stage and backstage.

We’re almost home!

Speaking of leadership that built a foundation, GR!DSM is working to get a new home this year.

The new location is pretty special to me --- my daughter was born there. The former Childhood Cancer Connection and Almost Home Birth Center on Grand Ave. is where future musicians will get to know this group of people I’ve come to call friends and framily. (Find out more about the fundraiser supporting the move to this new space here.)

Watching my daughter grow and explore music and herself through GR!DSM has been an amazing journey. She has been supported by a team of compassionate leaders and volunteers every step of the way. Each year, volunteers move equipment, band gear, merch, etc. to new locations to create pop-up camps and events. With a home of our own, GR!DSM could host these events themselves in their won space and offer more programming to our community.

As an artist who hopes to inspire others to contribute to creative culture and community, I value the work of the folx who run this group so much, and if you don’t know about them, I hope you learned a little bit more about what they’re about!

Kat Darling is a storyteller, singer/songwriter and musician. She creates music in The High Crest, and is the owner of 5 of Hearts Productions with her husband, Aaron Short. Darling produces art and shares stories in hopes of inspiring others, and to contribute to the development of creative culture and community.