When we launched YEA Camp in 2009, piloting our leadership training with 15 teens for 5 days in the Redwoods to help them to make a bigger difference in the world, we couldn’t have predicted so much of what’s followed since!
We mean that both from the perspective of all our campers have accomplished and the ways we have grown organizationally, but also literally in the sense of how unpredictable things often are at camp, and how much we’ve had to adapt and be resilient to changing circumstances in the moment.
From the time we found a new venue 2 weeks before the start of camp because the venue we had reserved was under evacuation due to forest fires, to that time the shuttle we had ordered to take campers back to the airport on the last day of camp didn’t show up — causing 7 kids to miss their flights(!) — to everything in between (we have some stories OMG!), we have been forced to adjust to unpredictable events and circumstances.
And so was the case for us (and sadly for the majority of the world’s population as well) this year with Covid-19.
For more than a decade, YEA Camp has been a summer camp for social change. When Covid made it clear that summer 2020 was going to need to look very different, we decided that YEA Camp would have to look different too.
Starting on March 15, just a few days after finding out schools would be closing in-person, our director Nora jumped into action to start teaching classes called The Changemakers Challenge, leading donation-based (nobody turned away for lack of funds) daily live Zoom calls every Monday-Friday on activist topics.
Not knowing what to expect with the pandemic, there wasn’t exactly a plan at first for how long these classes would go, but the students wanted to keep going with them and more students signed up, so all in all we held these classes for 12 consecutive weeks, every day Monday-Friday, with weeklong sessions such as World Changing 101, The Mindset of a Changemaker, and Communication Skills for Changemakers.
Virtual YEA Camp
During that time, a group of about a dozen past campers and staff formed a planning team to develop what YEA Camp could look like this summer. It was such an inspiring process to go from not knowing what a “virtual camp” even was (thanks Google!) to analyzing the things YEA Camp does best, what really makes something a camp versus classes or meetups, and envisioning activities and a schedule that could work well given the circumstances.
We held 4 sessions, World Changing 101, Exploring the Issues, Amplifying Your Message, and Careers for Changemakers. Each stood on its own for people to register for any 1 session, and the curriculum changed week to week so that our campers who were with us all summer were learning new things each week.
Our YEA Camp curriculum is always based on building knowledge, skills, confidence, and community, and with our virtual camp we found creative ways to do that.
We had daily Pajama Parties, where campers in small groups got to know each other better and form friendships with people who care just as much as they do about changing the world.
Camp wouldn’t be camp without free time activities like yoga and arts activism and vegan cooking classes, and while it’s not quite the same as camp at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary (where we held YEA Camp for 5 summers), we did virtual visits to animal sanctuaries that were the next best thing.
We did group evening activities similar to what we normally do at our in-person camps, like Show Off and Tell and our YEA Show.
And, as it worked out, we did some amazing things that we normally would not be able to do at in-person camps. We had guest speakers leading workshops and teaching about activism who would most likely never have been able to join us out in the woods. From changemakers like youth activist Genesis Butler, Toni Okamoto of Plant-Based on A Budget, former Camp Obama trainer Marquis Olison, and 20+ more incredible advocates to activist celebrities like Daniele Monet and Daisy Fuentes, our campers were exposed to so much wisdom and expertise to give them countless ideas and boundless inspiration to make a bigger impact.
We also were honored that many of our guest speakers were past YEA Campers, and all of our amazing counselors were past campers — all of whom have gone on to do incredible amounts of activism, which they all agreed YEA Camp helped them with along on their change-making path.
With everything being online, we were also able to have campers work on activist projects together. We divided everyone into CTW (Change the World, obviously!) groups based on their Issue of Importance (IOI), supported by a YEA Camp counselor (all of whom were past campers!) with expertise on that cause. We assigned everyone different CTW projects each week to register voters, raise money for the organization of their choice, advocate a decision-maker to take action, and think through and find a creative way to express the reasons their IOI exists and persists and why we should take action to address it.
In the end, our campers registered or reminded 1,306 people to vote by mail; they raised $13,416 for the nonprofit organizations of their choice; and made 5,533 advocacy calls, texts, or emails.
There are so many possibilities for what we can do next to build on the success of our new virtual programs!
Since camp we have been having regular SaturYEA meetups to work on activist projects together and keep the fun and community of camp alive, and we are excited to expand on this.
We are currently working on developing our YEA FAM — YEA’s Fellowship & Membership — to provide year-round programming, training, and support, as well as the fun and community, to help aspiring young activists pursue their dreams and goals. We’ll have regular classes, activities, game nights, and opportunities to bring the best of YEA Camp into our homes in all kinds of new ways.
We’re also planning our upcoming virtual camps and will announce those soon!
While of course we’d love to be with our campers in person, it’s been so inspiring and really fun to adapt our work into new ways and to find other creative outlets to help even more people make a bigger difference on the causes they care about.
Want to support our work to enable us to keep offering innovative programming, and to make our programs available to anyone who wants to attend regardless of their financial situation? Support our work here with a tax-deductible donation.
If you’d like to volunteer or be part of the team that helps create what’s next for YEA Camp, email us here!
Thank you so much to every single one of our campers, staff, parents, volunteers, and donors who helped make this incredible year of YEA Camp possible — and all of those who have helped us survive and become resilient all these years up until now.