Our Favorite YEA Camp Memories of 2017

by former YEA Campers Danielle Holtz and Ananya Singh

The ninth summer of Youth Empowered Action Camp was one for the books! From reaching more campers than ever before, to new workshops, to eating incredible food from our YEA Camp chefs, summer 2017 was spent having lots of laughs, honing new skills in activism, and making lifelong friends. To reminisce, we asked some campers and staff from this past year’s three sessions about some of their favorite memories. Whether you were a camper, parent, staff member, donor, volunteer, are thinking about signing up for a summer 2018 session, or are just appreciating what we do at YEA Camp, thank you for helping to make this another inspirational summer. With all that’s happening in our world, we needed it.

Our campers are all grown up! Well, at least 7 of our former campers were on staff this year as Counselors In Training (CIT), and they all did such outstanding jobs! Andrew, Danielle, Jake, Joyce, Lillian, Madison, and Tehya all came to us over the years (from Illinois, North Carolina, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, California, and Massachusetts!) as ambitious YEA Campers passionate about making a difference, and we have been blown away by the activism they have done and the fine adults they have grown into. Having them on staff this summer, we not only had full confidence in their judgment and in creating a positive environment for this year’s campers, but we also saw their love for YEA Camp and their passion for activism. With their involvement, the future of YEA Camp and our world is bright.

At all of our sessions, we put in our welcome packet that campers are invited to lead a “skillshare” — something that they want to teach the rest of us. This is totally optional, and apart from the occasional magic trick at the YEA Show, campers rarely take us up on this. At our California session this year, one of our campers, Maya, was excited about this opportunity. She led an amazing skillshare for us, teaching a big group of us Aztec dancing. It was so fun and also inspirational to see Maya’s connection to and pride in an aspect of her culture that she shared with us.

At the end of every session, campers share their action plans that have been crafted with a staff member for what kind of activism each camper will do when they go home. Whether it be volunteering at a local shelter, starting a YouTube channel to spread awareness of LGBTQIA+ issues, getting a school district to pass a Meatless Monday initiative, or any number of amazing plans campers make, campers and staff worked hard to create realistic and impactful activism plans. At the end of the week, campers are encouraged to share their action plans with everyone at camp, encouraging them to have “accountabilibuddies” to hold them accountable and check in! Seeing everyone stand up at the end of the week to present their plans is inspiring to the camper creating the plan, their peers, parents, and staff who worked with them along the way. Summer 2017 was no exception. Each camper created incredible action plans and many have carried out (or are carrying out) their goals!

At our California camp, returning counselor Andina led a teach-in on the injustice of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the inspiring activism at the Standing Rock Reservation to oppose it. Andina has worked with indigenous people for years, and she shared a slide show of pictures she took during her time at Standing Rock, explaining the reasons for the campaign, the approach and courage of the activists, and the timeline of the events. Hearing her vast knowledge about a topic so crucial to the well-being of the world was an inspiration to all of us. At YEA Camp, we are so lucky to have an array of staff that are educated about and working on so many aspects of injustice and activism that affect our world today.

At all of our 2017 sessions, YEA Camp took part in a national movement called The People’s Supper. The aim of the supper is to create humanizing interactions through stories of deep connection. Campers and staff filled tables, grabbed cards with prompts, and shared experiences that brought all involved closer. One of our longtime counselors, Pierce Delahunt, found The People’s Supper to be an incredible addition to YEA Camp: “Having participated in a supper after months of interest, and years of of being a fan of Hollaback, I was grateful to bring the experience to YEA Camp, my other home.”

YEA Camp is about activism and friendship, but it also helps us all find deep self-meaning. During an emotional evening activity where we reflect on how we feel about the state of the world, such a beautiful, vulnerable space is created. A number of campers were crying together to release the sadness about the injustices in our world, which felt very courageous and healing. Despite society teaching many of us the unhealthy idea that “boys don’t cry,” it was amazing to see masculinity be so vulnerable and to see male-identified campers work through their emotions and find new ways to express themselves. YEA Camp works to open participants up to their true selves, and seeing this transformation was extremely rewarding and life-changing for all involved.

Our NY session on Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary meant daily opportunities to visit with the animals! Each animal has been rescued from factory farms, “humane” killing operations, petting zoos, or other places where nonhuman animals should not be. It was such an incredible experience to be able to visit with these gentle beings each day, and to know that it was thanks to activism that these animals were even still alive and cared for. Dolly the llama was rescued from a petting zoo and lives her days happily on the sanctuary. Campers loved taking to Dolly and interacting with her spunky personality every day!

Every session of camp has a YEA Show– an opportunity for campers and staff to show others their activism, talents, and passions! By the time the YEA Show takes place, on the sixth night of camp, the community feels so comfortable and connected that many people are willing to take risks and go out of their comfort zone to perform. Performances included singing, dancing, karaoke, skits, magic tricks, and impassioned spoken word. These performances enable us to get to know another side of everyone that we may not have seen during the rest of the week, and to see the beauty and complexity of each of us in ways we hadn’t yet discovered.

Flash mob! One night during dinner at the Massachusetts session, while most of us were enjoying our meal, a flash mob broke out! It started as a big surprise when one of the youngest campers, Elijah, who is always very sweet and respectful, stood up and tipped his chair onto the floor to get everyone’s attention. At first, we were worried that something was terribly wrong! But soon music started playing and a group of about 10 campers and staff got up and started dancing and singing along, so we figured out that everything was ok and planned out! Campers and staff members had learned lyrics, practiced choreography, and there was even some fake money in the mix! It got everyone singing and dancing, and it was certainly a memorable night.

All summer, thanks in large part to the early-morning enthusiasm of YEA Camp Assistant Director Erin McIntosh, there was a great community of campers getting up for early morning runs! There were so many people who came out, even people who never thought they would be running went out and surprised themselves. YEA Camp encourages activists to have fun, build community, and to practice self care, and these runs showed how enthusiastic so many of us were — even early in the morning when others were still sleeping. It was so great to see everyone support each other the whole time!

One of the best parts of YEA Camp is having a bonfire at the end of the week. On our last night of camp, this is a time for us to gather together and reflect on our time together. In our circle, each person has a chance to share any appreciations of our group or their experience. The honesty and vulnerability in what people share is touching. Hearing our youngest and oldest campers talk about how much their new friends mean to them and what they’ve learned about themselves affirms for our community that we have created something special together. One camper from the MA session said this was their favorite camp memory: “Whenever I want to calm down or remember a good memory my brain takes me straight to sitting under the stars and listening to everyone talk around the fire”. The bonfire is definitely a very beautiful and inspiring moment that many YEA Campers remember long after the summer is over.

Every session at YEA Camp cultivates new friendships, new traditions, and continued inspiration for activism in today’s society. Cultivating new skills, going out of your comfort zone, and being part of a support system in activism bigger than oneself help make YEA Camp so special.

Interested in joining us for summer 2018? Find out more and sign up here! We look forward to making memories with you!