Each year of YEA Camp — and this is our SIXTH, OMG! — feels like the best. Maybe that’s because it’s closest in our memory, but it’s probably because the camp just gets better and better every year… which we didn’t actually think was possible!!
It’s tough to describe 3 epic life-changing, world-changing weeks in 1 blog post that won’t take you all day to read, so we’ll include our top 10 highlights below. (They are in no order, because that would just be too hard.)
1. Our campers developed super close friendships very fast. And not superficial ones either. From the first night, when campers introduce themselves by sharing a meaningful object and why they wanted to come to camp (like “I feel so passionate about so many causes but I don’t know what to do to help”), campers (and staff!) got to know what really matters to everyone there. By the end of the week, we were sharing our deepest fears and frustrations about the state of the world, as well as our biggest plans to make a difference.
2. Campers recognized the value and beauty of releasing and sharing their emotions — even the sad ones. In YEA Camp’s workshop on bullying, campers recognize that all of us have been bullied and, surprisingly, been bullies too, in one way or another.
In developing compassion for one another and realizing none of us are alone in our struggles, campers got present to their own unique awesomeness! We all need to nurture our own positive self image and not get our self worth from anyone else.
3. Campers learned about institutionalized issues in our society that make bringing about change so hard — you gotta know what you’re dealing with — and then looked at what to do about them.
We examined institutionalized racism (Ferguson, MO, came soon after); how media-crafted gender norms limit our self expression; where “stuff” comes from, why we buy so much of it, and where it goes when we throw it “away” (where is that, by the way?); how different social justice issues are interconnected; how 94% of politicians who outspend their opponents win and why that’s cause for concern; and how chairs can symbolize the power dynamics affecting most social issues.
4. Campers learned really valuable activist skills, like how to leaflet and table effectively, how to start and run a successful school club, how to manage your time well and evaluate if something is a good use of your activist time, and how to communicate effectively about your issue – including when it’s not worth trying to convince someone who completely disagrees with you, and how to handle those conversations when you have them. We studied one of the masters of this, Ellen DeGeneres. What do you see she did well in this interview?
5. This year, we had more returning staff than ever before – meaning we benefited from great continuity and experience from our already extremely accomplished staff – while at the same time having great new fresh faces and ideas. You won’t find a better group of role models for teenagers who want to make our world a better place.
6. Our Changemaker Olympics was more epic than ever before!
Representing countries such as MakeaDifferencia, Activista, Changemakerburg, and Ecotopia, campers put their week’s learnings to the test against such challenges as trying to convince their mean science teacher to switch to computer-simulated dissection, their principal to adopt a new approach to addressing bullying, and their cafeteria director to offer vegan options. Our staff are all so nice! But they also got into character being a little bit mean to provide good practice for campers in what can sometimes be real life obstacles trying to advance a cause with decision makers who aren’t supportive.
7. People got out of their comfort zone! From going on a solo hike in the woods to reciting a ridiculous poem in front of everyone, sharing about meaningful experiences, and dancing at the dance party (even if that can feel really awkward!), campers stepped up to challenge themselves. Before reciting the poem, we loved that one camper said, “I’m only doing this for the animals! If I can get myself to do this, who knows what else I can do?!”
- We had so much fun! We made music and art, we played ridiculous games, we ate amazing food (OMG, the desserts!), we went exploring on beautiful hikes, and on Camper Choice Night we had such epic dance parties!! (Check out “all the single ladies” to the right!)
And we set a record for number of selfies (or “usies”! ever taken at YEA Camp!
- Our campers have already done so much activism in the short amount of time since camp ended! Campers have gone leafleting, rallied at the State Capitol, met with school administrators to discuss curriculum changes, launched social media campaigns, had their first school club meeting, and so much more!
10. Our campers described camp as “the best experience of my life” and said “whereas before I didn’t know how to make a difference, now I know there is so much I can do, and not to give up.”
Each month we ask our campers to share with us the ways YEA Camp has helped them in their activism. If it has, we ask them to finish the sentence “If not for YEA Camp…”
Campers’ responses included Samantha who said, “If not for YEA camp, I wouldn’t have had any confidence to do what I am doing,” Liam who said, “If not for YEA Camp, I wouldn’t be able to achieve my goals as an activist,” and Sage who said “If not for YEA camp I would have given up the first time someone said ‘no’ to my activism plan.”
We love making a difference for our campers so they can make a bigger difference in the world!
We have big plans for 2015, but for now we’re celebrating a fabulous 2014 and send all of our campers, families, staff, and supporters lots of love and gratitude!
Team YEA Camp