Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Camp Outright 2.0

As I mentioned in my last post, I had the awesome opportunity this summer of being a cabin counselor at Camp Outright (CO2.0), a camp for queer and allied youth. Saturday was, sadly, our last day of camp, and after sending campers home and some clean up, the staff parted ways, and I came and crashed with some family friends in Burlington for the weekend before I came back to school on Monday.

...and the pride flag was flown.
To be honest, I'm not even sure where to start. This whole experience was so big and so powerful that I feel like it's ambitious to even try to write just one post about it. Camp has been going on for a long time. I was interviewed back in the spring semester, and staff at both Outright VT and the YWCA have been planning for eight months or more. But after all the planning, interviews and paperwork, most of us staff met for the first time at training on Thursday the 9th of August at the YWCA office in Winooski. Here, speakers came in to discuss mental health, gender, sexual violence and other things we would need to be aware of, given our unique situation. So it was a heavy two days of training. Then on Saturday, we made our way to camp to wrap up staff training and get ready for the campers, and on Sunday afternoon the youth arrived.

I was co-counselor with a fellow staff member in a gender-liberated cabin, which meant that there were youth in the cabin who were both female- and male-identified, as well as genderqueer. Our cabin rocked. A little shy at first, it turned into a very comfortable, cohesive group pretty quickly. They were great, and two campers told my co-counselor and I that they wished we were their older brothers.

Every day, we woke up at 7.00 (if you did polar bear, a before-breakfast activity) or 7.30. Throughout the day, the youth attended self-elected program blocks such as canoeing, archery, and other sports, as well as arts, drama, and other special workshops like drag and project runway. It was like any common summer camp in a lot of ways, but, obviously, catered more towards the queer community. Then for mealtimes, we had awesome food cooked by a wonderful volunteer who knew what they were doing. Like, they went to culinary school, we weren't eating camp food.

Another cool thing we did at camp was a daily workshop called Unity. Each day it was different, but it involved speakers and participation on topics such as body image, identity, and self-care. They were really powerful and hit pretty close to home for a lot of the youth and staff. But the messages were very positive, and I think a lot of people, including myself, benefited from these workshops. Also, all of the topics involved issues relevant to the queer community, but not exclusively.

CO2.0 was a unique experience and I'm so fortunate to have been able to participate. This is cliche, but I'm convinced I learned more from the kids and their stories than I could have possibly taught them. Not only was I exposed to new ideas and understandings of gender identity and the Queer Community in general, there was also just such a positive, genuine atmosphere of caring and understanding that felt like it existed exclusively in the present, probably not the same as it was last year and different than it will be next year. This week was the epitome of once-in-a-lifetime.

So, this doesn't even scratch the surface of what this week was like; I've just accepted that it's impossible to wrap up all in one post. But for more information, check out Outright or the YWCA, and you can like them on facebook too!

Thanks for reading!

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