Get ready to rock, Des Moines. 

Girls Rock! Des Moines (GR!DSM), an Iowa nonprofit teaching girls and gender-expansive students ages 10-16 musicianship and leadership skills, is planning to welcome more than 200 Girls Rock alliance leaders and volunteers during the International Girls Rock Camp Alliance (GRCA) Conference at Camp Sunnyside on April 23-26, 2020. The annual conference has previously attracted alliance members from 13 countries to offer staff and lead volunteers workshops and collective learning opportunities to strengthen their home programs. 

“The International Conference is just a huge opportunity to show that we’re more than a Des Moines organization. We’re part of this bigger picture, this larger network of amazing people doing this really cool collective movement,” said Jen Carruthers, vice president of GR!DSM. “It’s an opportunity to showcase our city to folks from around the country, from all over the world.” 

The winning bid for 2020 is just the first impression for GRCA: After hosting in Philadelphia up until 2019, the organization is interested in rotating host cities every five years. 

“You’d host it for four and then that fourth year, you onboard the next cities to teach them how to do the camp, and then they take it on that fifth year. You basically become their mentor,” Carruthers said. “We’re going to apply for 2021, and we’re hoping that we blow them away with our hospitality.”  

GR!DSM is starting to explore partnerships that could give travel scholarships to GRCA members who travel internationally to level the field of costs and boost the attendance rate, Carruthers said. 

“Des Moines is a unique community in the sense that people really do help one another if they think it’s a cool idea, and they think it’s going to make our community stronger,” she added. 

GR!DSM joined the Girls Rock Alliance three years ago after a few years operating as an independent nonprofit. The team has one full-time staff member, executive director Sara Routh, and served about 80 student members in the last year since GR!DSM expanded from solely summer programming to year-round events. The board of directors is also planning to expand, and is seeking to fund a few more full-time staff members. 

GR!DSM is also expanding its programming opportunities: In 2020, the organization will add a one-week program to students ages 5-9 and a Lady Rock weekend retreat for adults. GR!DSM has already launched Girls Rock! Tech after receiving a grant from Variety -- the Children’s Charity. The recording studio is based in Franklin Junior High and is the second all-women-led studio in the nation, after a studio located in San Francisco. 

“The recording industry is only about 5-7% female-represented. … All the music you’ve heard, currently hear or will hear in the future is mixed, mastered and finished by a guy,” Carruthers said. “Representation is really important just like all STEM fields, because this is a STEM field.” 

Support for the organization from the students and families it serves is only growing, Carruthers said: GR!DSM has raised more than $25,000 in camp scholarships it offers to students, and in the last two years, the flagship two-week camp has sold out, with other students on waitlists. Alumni of the program have gone on to gig in Des Moines, and GR!DSM keeps a list of upcoming shows by their students at https://www.girlsrockdsm.org/events-calendar (their next showcase is at the World Food & Music Festival’s main stage on Sept. 21, from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.). Some of the original students are returning to volunteer with the program. 

“It does give young folks a great opportunity to get out and start really expanding their music experience, and it kind of turns them into entrepreneurs,” Carruthers said. “To see them doing it at such a young age is mind-boggling.”