This year we moved to a beautiful new location in western Massachusetts. For the first time ever, we were on a lake with not only swimming but kayaking, which the campers (and staff!) loved. These, plus basketball and Gaga, were some of our campers’ favorite free-time activities.
Our campers often tell us that they are surprised how fun YEA Camp is! We aim to show that activism needs to be sustainable. The problems of our world are upsetting, and we are honest that activism can be emotional, tiring, and stressful. To model a healthy approach to activism, we prioritize having lots of fun, in addition to learning from our curriculum.
The most common piece of feedback we receive from our campers year after year is to make YEA Camp longer. This year we listened! Granted, campers typically want it to be for the whole summer (or even YEA School!), but still. This was our longest YEA Camp ever, at 9 days — from Saturday to the following Sunday. This allowed us to incorporate more content into our curriculum and to offer more free time each day.
But the most important thing about YEA Camp this summer was how amazing our campers and staff were, and the inspiring action plans they developed to make a difference on the causes they care about once they go home. Our campers and staff came from 17 different states — all the way from Washington, Oregon, and California, to nearby Western Massachusetts — and their passion for social justice issues like racial equity, LGBTQ+ rights, feminism, climate change, animal protection, gun control, and more, gave us all hope.
YEA Camp Curriculum Basics
Much of our curriculum this summer focused on our framework of looking at 4 different levels of activism. These can be applied to any social justice issue.
The internal level of activism doesn’t bring about change directly, but it creates the conditions for it. It is the preparation we all need to do to be able to make change on the other 3 levels.
Internal activism includes doing research to understand a social problem and potential solutions to it, processing emotions about the issue so you can approach it with a clear head, understanding and owning your personal story, learning how to respond to common misconceptions and FAQs about the issue, and researching organizations working on the cause that you may want to connect with.
The individual level of activism includes actions that you can take on your own, without relying on other people to take action. These seemingly small actions don’t bring about huge changes on their own, but they add up over time and can influence others. Without many people taking individual actions, change at the community or institutional level is much less likely.
Depending on the issue you’re trying to address, this level includes anything from eating less meat, taking public transportation, boycotting unethical companies or products, buying less stuff, speaking up when someone does something racist or homophobic, or picking up letter.
The community level of activism involves spreading the word about actions you want people to take. It can be as simple as publicizing the actions you are already privately taking.
We can publicize problems and their solutions on social media, do a school project or presentation at school, write for a blog or the school newspaper, or have an old-school conversation to get the word out about a cause and to encourage others to do something about it.
The institutional level of activism is where we see large-scale, long-term changes. Institutional change is not possible (or at least is unlikely for progressive causes) without the previous foundational levels of activism.
This includes registering and mobilizing voters, speaking at public hearings to influence community decision-makers, setting up a meeting with the school administration, or pressuring leaders through mass protests or other forms of advocacy.
We encourage our campers to think about the institutional changes we need, as well as the individual and community level actions required to help manifest these changes.
If you want to learn more about YEA Camp’s approach to activism, download our free ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Changing the World.
Choosing Their IOI
At about the midway point of camp, each camper chooses what we call their IOI, or Issue of Importance. This is the cause they will focus on for the rest of camp and beyond. We put them in a small group with other campers passionate about that issue along with an experienced staff advisor.
Much of the second half of camp is spent working with this group to think more deeply about their issue.
Campers think about core problems related to their cause and what to do about them. They develop and practice their talking points in response to common FAQs. Along with their staff advisor, they create and present info posters to educate the rest of camp about their IOI. They brainstorm actions they could take at each of the 4 levels of activism we teach about. And ultimately they each create an action plan for how they want to make a difference once camp is over.
These action plans included starting school clubs, launching fundraisers, publicity campaigns on social media, and lots more. It was so inspiring to hear campers share these plans and their visions for the future.
We are so grateful for our amazing staff members who led our workshops, advised campers in their small groups to develop their action plans, played and supervised games on free time, supported campers with any number of issues (from homesickness to actual physical sickness) and just generally hung out and befriended our campers and served as incredible role models throughout camp and beyond.
One of the most impactful aspects of YEA Camp is just bringing together our incredible campers with our experienced and inspiring staff both to hold the space and ensure the safety and success of camp, but also to provide examples and potentially long-term connections with changemakers working on making a difference in a wide variety of ways.
Towards the end of the week, many of our campers wrote thank you letters to staff to show their appreciation for our hard work and commitment. Seeing these letters was so inspiring and validating for all of our staff.
Each staff member went above and beyond this summer, doing countless things throughout the day that may go unnoticed but helped make YEA Camp such a success. It was beautiful to see that our campers noticed!
You can read some more of our camper appreciation letters on our Instagram.
It’s always so hard to explain what a session of YEA Camp was like. From the friendships and silliness, to serious discussions and learning, to confidence-building and epiphanies, up through their action plans…. It’s impossible to capture it in a blog post.
Ultimately, the only way to understand what YEA Camp is like is to join us yourself!
Check back on our website at www.yeacamp.org to see our upcoming dates for next summer, other programs we are offering, or to apply to work with us.
Thank you so much to everyone who helped make another year of YEA Camp possible! This includes all of our amazing campers and families, staff, volunteers, and donors. YEA Camp is truly a labor of love. The impact of our work is only possible thanks to all of you! We will be seeing the ripple effects through our campers’ activism in the years to come.
We look forward to another life-changing summer, new digital offerings, and staying connected in the year to come.