“Pure joy” is how Dr. Jasmine Zapata described the Beyond Beautiful Celebration at the East YMCA July 9 as dozens of Madison-area 4th-6th graders and their families converged to mark the halfway point of the Beyond Beautiful Empowerment Summer Camp.
“It was magic,” Zapata says. The energy was amazing.”
The Beyond Beautiful Girls Empowerment Academy was founded by Zapata, an award-winning author, local pediatrician, public health specialist, and community leader, to address the need for more socio-emotional support for young girls. The Beyond Beautiful mission is to help girls increase their self-esteem, confidence and leadership skills.
The Academy has been partnering up with the YMCA in the creation of a Beyond Beautiful 10-week Summer Camp. The Dane County cohort launched at the East Y in June.
“We’re at the halfway point now and we had a big celebration to let the young ladies know how special they are to us and how important they are and to just celebrate them, especially in the midst of all that’s going on,” Zapata tells Madison365. “The big emphasis was to let them know that even though there’s a lot of attention on young ladies’ outward appearances, their true beauty and strength and power is on the inside and we had a whole event to celebrate that.”
Beyond Beautiful Girls Empowerment Academy currently works with different schools and community centers and with different organizations both locally and out of state.
“However, this is the first year we partnered up with the YMCA. In this partnership for this particular 10-week summer camp, the first hour, we do girls’ empowerment activities, we read through the book, we do different relationship-building activities and teach them the concepts of Beyond Beautiful curriculum,” Zapata says. “In the second hour, the YMCA staff has activities for them to do around their facility.
“So every single week they’re doing a different physical or recreational activity from going to the splash pad to getting open gym time to doing fun team building,” she adds. “It’s amazing when you combine the social-emotional curriculum we’re going through with the books and then they get to go do activities at the Y. The Y has been such an incredible partner for this and it’s so exciting.”
YMCA of Dane County President and CEO Mark Westover said in a statement that the organization is “incredibly proud” to partner with Dr. Zapata and her team “to help make this incredible program available to girls in our community.”
“Giving kids the self-confidence to thrive is one of the most important things the YMCA does,” Westover said. “When I learned about Beyond Beautiful, I immediately reached out to Dr. Zapata so that we could bring this program to the community.”
Saturday’s big celebration to mark the halfway point of the camp included breakout sessions and activities like a dance party with great music from DJ Martinez White, and an opportunity for girls to walk the red carpet and get their pictures taken. There were 30 girls in the summer camp. “They got to invite their friends and family to the event so in total we probably had 80-100 people at the event,” Zapata says.
“When the girls arrived we had a red carpet ready. They had to walk down the red carpet and everybody was like screaming and cheering and clapping. We had a whole host of volunteers to clap for them when they walked the red carpet. They seemed to be a little bit shy at the beginning as they started to walk but their confidence increased when they just heard all these people cheering for them,” she adds. “It was just indescribable.”
The girls also did jewelry-making activities and performed and sang the Beyond Beautiful song in front of all of their family members.
“It was really amazing. We had a parent breakout session that was led by my own mother. She talked to the parents while we did a session with the girls just about raising up your children to shine and to accomplish any goals that they have despite adversity,” Zapata says.
The celebration had an activity towards the end where parents directly spoke to their children — speaking positive affirmations into their life. “There were just tears everywhere for that for that portion,” Zapata says.
“Some of my co-authors from across the country actually flew into Madison for this event so that they could sign the books for the girls,” Zapata adds. “All the girls in the summer camp get the whole Beyond Beautiful series of books, and they’ve been reading it over the summer. “
The event was a great opportunity for the girls to build friendships.
“That is really important. Because there’s a lot of like bullying going on at school. So we focused on just building positive, healthy relationships,” Zapata says. “Even being able to experience joy in the midst of the world we’re living in today is really important. Many of these young ladies have experienced tragedy in the last few months and have had severe adverse childhood experiences. It was great to see them interact at this event — they’re smiling and excited and just having an afternoon of pure joy is very important. And hopefully, it’ll help them stay focused and confident moving into the school year.
“And just knowing that they’re loved and seen is so important,” she adds.
It takes quite a bit to put an event like this together, but Zapata is hoping to do it even more often as her Beyond Beautiful movement grows.
“We are definitely hoping to expand into other schools, community centers, partnerships with therapy centers, and more,” she says. “We’re just looking to expand in any way because this message is so important and the way that we’re delivering it is very unique when you combine public health with music and performing arts and academics with the book reading, but with fun and recreation. it’s just really an incredible combination to deliver this message.”