This July, I served as a camp counselor at Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp, a camp for teenagers who want to change the world. The camp empowers teens on a variety of social justice issues, and the particular camp where I served was focused on animals. The experience was incredibly challenging and rewarding.
The camp ran from July 17 to 24 and was located at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. Like any camp, we slept in cabins with several others, ate together, played games, and hiked in the woods. The special aspects of this camp were meeting and engaging with the farm animal residents and training youth on how to be activists.
Some of the topics of the talks that I led were how to conduct grassroots outreach, why people choose to become vegan, and nonviolent communication. It was satisfying to lead workshops on these topics because I have extensive experience in these areas and strong opinions about them. Other topics included challenging racism, sharing meaningful items from each camper, opposing sexism, and working with campers to determine their activist plan for the year.
The greatest reward was cultivating strong connections with individual campers. Shortly after the camp, I exchanged emails with one of the campers. She said:
I am so happy that I met you at YEA Camp! You inspired me to do great things with my life! … You always made me laugh and I loved when you danced! You always brought the good out of me and I had so much fun with you. You inspired me to ignore what other people thought and do what you like to do. At the beginning of camp I always wanted to join you jumping, but I was embarrassed about what the others would think of me. But, I started jumping with you on the last full day of camp! It was so fun! I didn’t care what the others were thinking, or that people were taking videos of us, I just wanted to have fun! YEA camp inspired me so much that I realized how much more confident I was at the end then I was at the beginning. I talked so much more louder and I didn’t care what others thought.
She later asked for my assistance in her activism, and I connected her with additional resources. I had so much fun at camp and at the same time developed deeply moving connections with young activists.
I was excited to meet the camp director, Nora Kramer, for the first time. We knew many animal activists in common across the country, but we hadn’t yet met face-to-face. She’s a powerful force for the animals and for social justice and was devoted to the development of the campers. She was attuned throughout the camp to the needs of both the campers and the staff. I felt inspired by Nora to have a broader view of empowering new activists and helping them develop their confidence, knowledge, ability, and enthusiasm.
Several of the campers as well as the younger staff inspired me. They are curious, driven, and kind. I’m glad I invested my time and energy in helping to cultivate an experience in which they can learn about how to be an activist, challenge themselves to be more courageous and gentle, and meet and connect with new and experienced activists. I feel hope for the animal protection movement.