The summer of 2020 in the US will be remembered for the massive protests against racism and the continued adjustment to life during Covid 19. Hopefully, for many people, it will be remembered as the summer when they became activists.
When we at YEA Camp recognized that we would need to cancel our in-person camps, we knew we weren’t going to sit this summer out.
We wanted to create something new to support so many young people wanting help to make a bigger difference on issues related to racism and police brutality, as well as many other issues our society has been struggling with long before we ever heard the word “coronavirus.”
YEA Campers are passionate about opposing racism as well as other social justice issues like climate change, LGBTQ equality, animal rights, mental health, gun control, poverty, and other pressing needs — and we were thrilled to be able to reimagine what we do at our in-person camps to create Virtual YEA Camp to help more than 100 teens and tweens on their change-making path.
Differences Between In-Person and Virtual YEA Camp
After more than a decade of running in-person camps, our planning team spent 2 months developing our approach to bring the best of what we do into a totally different virtual format.
YEA Camp’s curriculum is based on building knowledge about problems and solutions, skills to take effective action, confidence to believe in yourself and get out of your comfort zone, and community to know you’re supported and not alone. And that’s just what we did at Virtual YEA Camp.
While of course we love being together in-person, and there are certain things built into our regular curriculum that are tougher or impossible to do virtually, we found ways to incorporate new activities into our online program, including many we’re not normally able to do in person.
We had 4 sessions of Virtual YEA Camp. The first, World Changing 101, introduced basic ideas of privilege, 3 levels of activism we can do (individual, community, and institutional), and basics of campaigns and advocacy. In the second session, Exploring the Issues, we focused each day on a different social justice issue to learn more about it and the advocacy we can do to make a difference on that cause. Our third week, Amplifying Your Message, was all about skill-building, and we focused on improving communications skills, taught a workshop on campaign planning, and introduced campers to the basics of political organizing, grassroots advocacy, and social media activism. And finally week 4 was called Careers for Changemakers — a unique look at ways to envision a lifetime of making a difference.
We did virtual visits to 3 different animal sanctuaries, and we were able to have guest speakers that would never normally be able to make the trip to join us in the woods. We had incredible changemakers training our campers in how to make a difference, from social justice journalist Rose Aguilar of “Your Call Radio” to teen activist and youngest-ever TEDx speaker Genesis Butler; from the Institute for Humane Education’s founder Zoe Weil to Plant-Based on a Budget’s Toni Okamoto; President of the San Mateo County, CA, Board of Supervisors Warren Slocum, founder of the Embody Love Movement, Dr. Melody Moore; and so many more.
We had guest speakers who were educators, social entrepreneurs, therapists, chefs, attorneys, social workers, journalists, political organizers, and politicians — all speaking about their career paths, including the good, the bad, and the ugly.
And so many of our speakers were past campers, like Ananya Singh, Sarah Goody, and Elyanna Calle sharing about their environmental activism; Noor Aldayeh sharing about her expertise in social media, Ana Little-Sana advised campers on getting involved in politics, and Julia Clark talked us through the behind-the-scenes of how she successfully led a campaign to get the name of her high school changed from that of a confederate general to Justice High School(!).
Our starstruck campers loved our celebrity guests Daniella Monet and Daisy Fuentes, who both spoke about how they’ve used their platforms to make a bigger difference on causes they care about, how they deal with haters, and building up the courage to find your voice. We had virtual visits to animal sanctuaries; dance and yoga classes led by celebrity teachers; arts activism using Canva to create social media-ready images to share right away; and vegan cooking classes, including one with celebrity chef Eddie Garza, who taught us to make tamales — so good! And we had incredible yoga and dance instructor and choreographer SuzE Q leading classes each week.
All of Our Amazing Staff Members Were All Former Campers!
We also had incredible staff members advising and supporting our campers all the way through. Each one of our counselors — Aine Pierre, Emma Kossoy, Jocelynn Dow, Julia Clark, Liam Davis-Bosch, and Maya Diaz-Villalta — was a former camper themselves and so knew exactly the positive, inspiring, and fun vibe of our in-person camps to help replicate this experience virtually. Advisors Sarah and Miranda hugely helped campers with their CTW challenges and action plans, and Chef Miranda taught us her amazing chocolate chip cookie recipe. Assistant director Andina Aste-Nieto joined us for her 7th(!) summer with us, and her presence makes every YEA Camp better.
Each member of our staff was chosen in part because they have also done a huge amount of activism themselves, especially for their young age. All recent high school graduates or college students, members of our amazing staff have lobbied their Congressional officials, started and run community organizations, launched successful campaigns and initiatives at their schools, and much more.
Leveraging Virtual Format to Make a Bigger Difference
One unique difference between Virtual YEA Camp and our in-person camp was access to technology. Normally we have spotty wifi, a no cell phone policy to keep everyone present and free of distractions, and no computer lab or structure for everyone to have access to the Internet.
As we developed our plans for our Virtual YEA Camp and recognized we’d need to cut some things, we also realized that on the bright side we could incorporate technology in totally new ways that we never have in person to enable campers to work on activist projects together.
Matched with a staff member who has worked on their cause, and in a small group of other campers with the same Issue of Importance (IOI), each camper worked on CTW (Change the World!) projects each week.
Each small group was given assignments for the week to create a social media project to share resources or inspiration for why and how others should get involved in their cause. From reflecting on the Pillars of Support (or underlying reasons) that their issue exists to developing talking points and compiling lists of things people can do to make a difference, campers educated themselves and others about their cause. Their What Is Your Why projects also can be a source of ongoing inspiration to stay present to their passion over the long haul.
They also set group goals to do activism together each week, and then got into action throughout the day, having their small group and counselor for support along the way. Campers identified campaigns they cared about and the decision-makers who needed to be persuaded and made at least 5,533 advocacy calls, emails, and texts for their causes! Whether they called federal or local legislators, multinational corporations, or small businesses in their area, campers made their views heard — requesting charges brought against killer cops, support for eco-friendly policies, vegan food options, and other changes to make our world better.
While many sent texts and emails, we especially encouraged every camper to get over their fear of making calls. Doing role plays and practice calls together, campers got more comfortable and also discovered that most calls are really short and simple. A one-sentence “Hi, I’m calling to ask you to …” is usually met with a respectful “OK, thanks for calling. I’ll pass that along. Have a nice day” — not arguments about how much a program will cost or questions about specifics they might not have the answers to on the tip of their tongue.
Several campers who got over their fears about making their first call ended up making over 30 calls each in just a few days and plan to include this approach in their future advocacy!
Campers also registered or reminded people in their lives and community to vote in this important upcoming election. In our workshop on politics, we talked about how there are so many ways you can be involved in an election, even if you’re too young to vote.
And campers fundraised! Each small group agreed on an organization working on their IOI and set an ambitious fundraising goal for the week. Some campers were terrified to reach out to people in their life to ask for donations and were inspired to see people they didn’t expect support their fundraisers!
Everybody dealt with some level of rejection or disappointment or anxiety of doing or saying the wrong thing, which are all important parts of activism that we need to get comfortable experiencing and overcoming. Hearing “no” can be really hard, but if we aren’t willing to hear “no” about the causes we believe in and the big changes we want to make, we likely won’t be hearing “yes” either.
In addition to all these group goals and challenges, every camper developed an action plan for how they want to make a difference once camp ended. They chose a cause to focus on, a goal and proposed date to achieve it by, and developed action steps to take along the way.
Many campers, especially those who were with us for multiple sessions, got to work on their plans too.
We know of at least 3 activist-related podcasts launched during YEA Camp, this online petition (please sign!) our amazing camper Rachel created to request climate change education in NY public schools, new social media platforms to raise awareness on different causes, arts activism created to raise awareness, people who went to their first-ever protest, and so much more that we don’t even know about and that will be developed and blossoming in the weeks, months, and years to come.
We couldn’t be more proud of our campers’ accomplishments this summer, and it was such a joy to see their own pride as well!
We’ll remember campers telling us “I FINALLY MADE A CALL!” and having them share about what it took for them to develop the courage to pick up the phone, push the buttons and make the call.
We’ll remember campers’ enthusiasm and pride when they saw people contributing to the online fundraiser their group had created just the day before.
We’ll remember so many campers starting to really see for themselves that they can make a difference, that all of our actions add up, that they are not alone and have a community of people now who support them and care as much as they do about making our world a better place.
And ultimately we’ll remember that we are resilient. That it wasn’t that long ago that YEA Camp was canceled and we had no idea what we might do instead. That we were googling “virtual camp” to find out what that even was — and to then imagine and create our version of what it could be.
That’s what activists do.
And it wouldn’t have been possible without so many of you. Our campers for caring so much and YEA Camp parents for trusting us with your kids. Our incredibly committed staff who made this whole new innovative program possible. Our brilliant speakers who so much of their wisdom and expertise with us. Volunteers involved in so many levels of our work. Our donors who make all of our work possible. And to many cheerleaders who appreciate and share our work. So many of you have been supporting us on this path and helped make this amazing summer possible for us. We are so grateful for all of you!
And now we want to build on our successes from this summer and continue to reinvent what is possible for our work and organization.
Want to know what’s next for YEA Camp? So do we! We have so many ideas and would love your help deciding and prioritizing. Fill out this survey to let us know what you think! And follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep track of what we’ve got planned next.