By YEA Camp Founder and Director Nora Kramer
Hello YEA Family,
Ten years! This year, this month, today, we are celebrating 10 years of YEA Camp! I can’t believe it.
It was 10 years ago in April that I put a $2,000 check in the mail, pulled from my savings, to pay the deposit on our first ever YEA Camp!
I was excited, of course, but more than that, I was terrified. What was I getting myself into? So many things could go wrong. My brain was filled with “what ifs.”
I had a clear vision (though endless details to be worked out) and lots of experience working at camps, teaching, and as an activist, but I had never done anything quite like this before.
Walking down the street to put the check in the mailbox, I still remember thinking “well, hopefully the camp will actually happen, people will come, and I will make this money back. If not, $2,000 is a pretty small amount to risk to try to fulfill my dream and not look back on my life with regrets.” Hopefully! And look at us now!
But before I say anything else, I want to say that whether you have been a camper, parent, volunteer, donor, staff member, advisor, or have held some other relation to our camp family, THANK YOU!
YEA Camp is a culmination of so many incredible people doing so many incredible things. We will be sharing more about some of the people and experiences that helped YEA Camp exist and thrive this past decade. In the meantime, I want to share a personal story and note of appreciation below.
But first (just so it doesn’t get buried at the bottom of this post), I want to share that we are offering a special 10-year anniversary thank you gift!
For the next 10 days, we are offering 10 spots at each session for half-off tuition! This applies to each session of camp, including both sessions of our youth camp and YEA Camp for Adults! Just use the code 10YEARS when you register. This will be for the next 10 days, starting today until May 1.
We will also be reflecting on some of our favorite moments over the past 10 years on our Instagram, so follow us there to celebrate with us!
I hope you’ll join us as we embark on decade number 2!
How YEA Camp Came To Be (The Not That Short-ish Version)
Anyone who knew me between 2001-2009 knew that I was obsessed with activism and that I was planning to start a camp for aspiring activists someday. And some of them probably even thought it would happen one day! (I had my doubts!)
In 1998, I took an environmental science course that drastically redirected my path, leading me to such a meaningful, rewarding life of activism in many forms in the 2 decades that have followed. It was the activism of that professor, John Andrus, that has led to my own. And that’s the way activism works, isn’t it? One person inspiring and influencing another, who then pays that forward by influencing others.
I didn’t know anyone I really considered an activist. Looking back, I didn’t even know what activism was. I spent the first several years after that sort of stumbling along trying to learn. The more I learned about different social justice issues, the more I realized they were connected to other issues I didn’t know enough about. I wanted to learn as much as I could to help the environment, people, and animals. All I could think to do was to try one thing after another and keep going.
I pursued every training I could find, taking workshops and courses, and going to conferences, teach-ins, and talks. No matter how many books I read or internships and volunteering I did, I wanted to keep learning from as many people as I could. I did trainings in topics as varied as challenging white supremacy to permaculture, communication to education, management to improv.
I spent my 20s doing just about every type of activism I could think of. From leafleting to writing to protests to door-to-door canvassing and political campaigning, I tried to figure out how to make the biggest difference I could and find my place in the world.
Once I knew I wanted to start a camp, I did even more. I got my teaching credential and taught high-school English. Then I spent three years taking and then coaching leadership and communication courses. I even got certified to teach yoga. And I continued doing tons of activism, wanting to become knowledgeable in as many areas as possible. There was always more to learn and more ways to get involved.
It was this mentality that led to the idea for the camp in the first place.
It was 2001 when I started teaching a class called Animals and the Environment at an after-school program. I had been looking for volunteer opportunities on Craigslist, though I didn’t even know what I was looking for. I saw the listing to teach about a topic you’re passionate about that kids might be interested in. Even though I had no teaching experience, this seemed really interesting to me.
Over the years I had found that adults are often jaded or resigned when learning about problems in the world. On the other hand, young people often wanted to learn what they could do about them. I thought I would give it a try. What if I could nurture that naturally compassionate and activist-oriented mindset?
The students loved the class, and I loved teaching it. When parents asked me for suggestions for what their kids could do during the summer, well … the rest is history. (It’s in the longer version of this story.)
I give this backstory as context because so often our paths in life are windy and unfold as we keep going. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like we are even on a path, that we are headed the right way, or that we will ever get to our desired destination — if we even know what that is. If we continue on that path, we sometimes get someplace even more amazing than we could have planned for.
We may not realize it at the time, but so many people are helping us along the way. Every person and organization I volunteered with, every journalist or author who educated me, even every person who debated and disagreed with me taught me so much in their own way. In fact, it was when I got laid off from my job teaching environmental education that I decided it was the right time to start the camp!
That “path” from when I first decided to start the yet-to-be-named camp to summer number 1 took me 8 years. Eight years to try to become the person I felt I needed to be to start the camp that I felt needed to exist. Eight years to feel confident enough that this program would be worth all the work to make it happen.
At camp, I’ve often shared the story about how scared I was to start YEA Camp, and how long it took me because I think it’s such a powerful lesson. I doubted myself so much, but I didn’t give up. I worked at camps every summer and did trainings for camp directors with the American Camp Association. It finally became clear to me that I had no more excuses and it was time to launch.
The thing I want campers to know is just how long it can take for us to manifest or achieve big projects. From the outside, it might seem like someone else knows what they’re doing and you don’t. Or it might feel like you’re never going to accomplish your plans. The whole time we’re working towards our goals, we might be filled with doubts and insecurities, but if it’s important enough, we need to just keep moving forward. It’s not that when I finally started the camp it’s because I stopped being scared. I had just done the work to prove to myself that I was ready to at least try. But that was only possible because I surrounded myself with people who believed in me — often more than I believed in myself.
Thanks to many people’s encouragement and coaching, in April 2009, I took the leap of faith. I sent my savings to Quaker Center to reserve the venue for our first session and haven’t looked back.
YEA Camp’s First Decade of Making an Impact
Over these 10 years, we have held 29 sessions in the most beautiful locations we could find. We’ve served thousands of vegan meals and led hundreds of workshops. We’ve trained over 700 inspiring young activists from over a dozen countries and most U.S. states. We’ve helped other educators bring social justice education into their classrooms and summer camps, mentored campers throughout the year, and wrote an ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Changing the World. In 2018, we launched YEA Camp for Adults, the first program of its kind in the country.
We measure YEA Camp’s success by our campers’ accomplishments, though these are impossible to fully measure or list.
YEA Campers have gone on to make huge changes at their schools. Think improving the school’s recycling, having more vegan-friendly cafeteria options, getting rid of the cafeteria’s styrofoam trays, introducing anti-bullying campaigns, launching clubs to enable their peers to get active, changing the school’s racist mascot, and even successfully changing their school’s name. This just scratches the surface.
Campers have worked in their communities on political campaigns for preferred candidates, lobbying their representatives, holding voter registration drives, gathering signatures for ballot measures, testifying at hearings, helping to pass laws, and even gotten a polling place on their campus.
YEA Campers have organized, attended, and spoken at marches around the nation. They have posted about their cause and their activism on social media. They have volunteered their time and raised thousands of dollars for those in need, and on and on.
From feedback we’ve received, maybe the biggest long-term impact of YEA Camp has been on their mindsets. Even years later, so many campers have told us that YEA Camp shifted the way they think about themselves, about the world, and about the impact that one person can have. It gave them practical skills and ideas, like to start and run a great club, as well as the confidence to actually do it. Campers have told us at the end of camp that any activism they do from here on out is thanks to their experience at camp. YEA Camp helps people to get on or continue their own activist path.
How can we quantify this over a lifetime, or even over 10 years? How do we even begin to tell these stories? We’ve been working on it and will keep you posted on that too.
So Many People Have Made YEA Camp Possible
Looking back, the number of people who have helped make YEA Camp what it is today is beautifully overwhelming.
Listing anyone specifically means leaving many more people out. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine YEA Camp coming into existence without April Rood, Joshua Rood, Sophie O’Shaugnessy, Alissa Hauser, and Landmark Education’s Team Management & Leadership Program. Ari Nessel has been supporting YEA Camp since it was an idea, and he keeps bringing ideas into fruition. Leanne Alaman, Erin Fields, Luke Janes, Laine Forman, Sharon Smith, Laura Carver, and others helped get that first pilot session off the ground so we could show proof of concept and that this was worth continuing. So much of what we created that session has formed the basis for traditions we still do today.
Laura Carver and her family helped turn me from a “lone nut” into a leader. It was Laura who helped take YEA Camp to other states and who turned my ideas into a curriculum guide.
Laura kept YEA Camp in existence when we had no money and were practically begging campers to come for free. Her amazing husband Jay took on months of single-parenthood in supporting Laura being at camp each summer. Every single thing we do today and in the future, even years after Laura’s been actively working on the camp, Laura deserves credit for.
Yvonne LeGrice stepped in at a difficult time organizationally to help us in so many needed ways when we desperately needed her.
Every member of our staff at camp do so much to make YEA Camp what it is. That means everything from talking with a homesick camper, to washing dishes, to leading a life-changing activity.
Some staff have worked with us for so many sessions we need to look back and add it up to figure out how many. And some even started as campers and became some of the most reliable staff we have.
Aaron Sorto, Amber Canavan, Ananya Singh, Andina Aste-Nieto, Anthony Pizzo, Brian Grupe, Charles Orgbon, Danielle Holtz, Diana Rose Rachel Frances, Drew Wilson, Eileen Botti, Erin McIntosh, Jake Johnson, Jeri Schneider, Leanne Alaman, Lillian Davis-Bosch, Lindsy Coon, Madeleine Lifsey, Mary Beth King, Mike McLendon, Monica Carr, Pierce Delahunt, Pike Long, Salimatu Amabebe, Shelby Kim, and Tammy Kremer are just some of the staff who have had an outsized influence over multiple years of YEA Camp.
We’ve received critical grants from the Ford Foundation, Nature’s Path, and A Well-Fed World, all of which enabled us to take our work to new heights. The Pollination Project and Sacramento Vegetarian Society have sponsored campers to attend, while Mercy For Animals and PETA have been among our loudest cheerleaders.
More than 500(!) people have donated to us — whether through a generous year-end donation or a $10 per month gift. Bobby Rullo, Brian Grupe, Elliot Trexler, Gabe Quash, the Martell Family, Melissa Spitalny, the Nessel and Klempner family, Remy Raquiza, Shannon Durham, and Sophie O’Shaugnessy have generously supported us for years. We literally couldn’t exist without you.
Parents, friends, and people we had never met before have volunteered their time and expertise. Brandon Herman’s incredible pro-bono filmmaking, and endless tech help from Katie Albright, Ed Yaffa, Ezra Aharon, Joshua (who is) Awesome, and Karen Rudy have made a huge difference. April Rood and Emilie McBain designed the first two versions of our YEA Camp website and logos for free! Kimberly Ireland just says yes when I ask for things. There are crews of people who have tabled for us for years in their areas. Special appreciation go to the New England crew of Judy Kelly, Julia Caruk, and Tracy Albernaz. And there are people who have housed us and driven us around and just done whatever random tasks were needed. Alex Davis, Bethany and Scott Davis, Dave Rutan, Jaimsyne Blakeley, and Leslie Kowash have saved us or made life easier many times.
And dozens of companies have donated food to us! Special appreciation go to Amy’s, Miyoko’s, and Tofurky for their years of generous support! Amie Hamlin, Jeri Schneider, and Lauren Scheller-Wolf did an incredible job managing our food donation program, making it possible for us to serve some of the best vegan food on the market affordably.
I’m honored to have gotten to work with such outstanding people, and to help make YEA Camp a thing! None of this would be possible without the tireless support of all of you in our YEA Camp community. For that, I forever thank you.
This list could go on and on. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around it.
Personally, my friends/framily have supported me in so many ways, I can’t even begin. Alon Raab, the Colangelo family, Gabe Quashnofksy, Hazel Kahan, Jaimsyne Blakely, Laura Carver, the Martell family, Melissa Spitalny, and Samantha Carney have literally helped make my life and then YEA Camp after it possible just by having me in their lives. And my parents — well, this post has been long enough, and I know they would be proud.
What we have built together is beautiful, and we are still at it, prepping for summer 2019!
Thank You Thank You And Thank You
As a thank you, to celebrate our 10 year anniversary, we are offering a special discount for this summer! Over the next 10 days, we are offering half-off for 10 spots at each session. Use the code 10YEARS when you register for our youth or adult camps by May 1!
We will also be sharing some of our favorite stories and photos with you. Follow us on Instagram to see our spotlight on one year per day over the next 10 days. You might see some familiar faces!
I am so grateful and proud of what we have accomplished in the last ten years. I hope our impact will be exponentially greater in the decades to come.
Thank you all for helping me make my dream come true.
Founder, YEA Camp