YEA volunteer Erica recently sat down with one of our campers, Sky, in New Jersey to ask about her time at camp and what she got out of her experience. It has been seven months since YEA Camp 2012 ended, but we love to hear that the impact is still evident today! YEA Camp!
Sky’s eyes widen, her voice rises and her face lights up. The 16-year-old from New Jersey loves talking about her summer camp. Youth Empowered Action, or YEA, is a camp for teens who want to make a difference in the world. Most kids return home from their summer camps with fond memories and new friends, but teens from YEA Camp also bring home valuable skills and practical knowledge, which they use to make the world a better place.
Sky heard about YEA from her aunt, whom Sky describes as “very big in the animal activism circle.” What appealed to her most about the camp was “the idea that it was for youth activists and trying to empower youth.” The camp, which originated on the west coast, held its first east coast session during the summer of 2012. YEA camps run week long sessions, and even though Sky hadn’t attended summer camp before, the short duration gave her the necessary confidence the try it out. “It was a really long, but really short week at the same time,” says Sky. “At the end, everyone was best friends. It was great. I loved it!”
YEA is special because it offers more than the typical camp activities like hiking and talent shows. YEA campers also participate in games and workshops designed to build knowledge, skills, confidence and community. Sky especially appreciated this aspect of the program. “Mixed in with all the fun, you have different workshops. They taught a lot about different issues in a very comprehensive way.”
One workshop focused on developing an “elevator pitch” on the campers’ chosen Issue of Importance, or IOI. Campers were asked to imagine being in an elevator with someone who asks about their topic of interest. “You have fifteen seconds, tops, to quickly explain, so you can’t tell everything about your cause,” Sky describes. “Just fifteen seconds, what are you going to say if you are asked about it? Or you’re handing out pamphlets, you have their attention for maybe five seconds, so you need to have a short tag line to get their attention and then, really quick, what are you all about?” This workshop helped the campers develop the pitch for their own specific IOIs.
At camp, Sky’s IOI was animals rights. The topic seemed like an obvious choice to her, who says, “I’ve always been an animal rights person. I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life.” She already knew a great deal about the issue and had years of hands-on experience with her IOI. What surprised her, however, was how much more she learned about it. “We had one workshop at YEA about why the camp food was vegan, and I learned more about it than I’ve ever known before.”
Sky’s best friend Shikha went with her to YEA last year. The pair used what they learned at YEA to improve their own community through a service club they started at their high school. “At YEA we had a whole unit on how to start a club, how to run a club and how to keep a club going,” she says, “and that’s been extremely helpful.” Sky credits her friend with coming up with the idea for the club based on plans formed during their YEA Camp experience. Sky says that before YEA, “We wouldn’t have done it at all.”
The club, a Harry Potter Alliance, is part of an international organization for community service based on the Harry Potter books. “It’s all about taking the different ideas from the franchise and relating them to real life problems,” she explains. A fair labor campaign, for example, would link back to the unjust treatment of the house elves, who were treated as slave laborers. Sky provides a real world example: chocolate growers who “don’t even make enough money to buy the chocolate they are producing.” The teens’ Harry Potter Alliance Club formed a coalition with the school’s literature club to run a project that donates books to local hospitals and kids in Africa. They chose that project because both groups shared the belief “that education and reading are very important.”
Sky credits YEA with providing the necessary skills and knowledge to form and maintain the project. “YEA gave us the foundation of what to do,” Sky said, “and how to keep it self-sustaining.”
Written by Erica Lebovitz