Youth Empowerment 5 Years on: What is the Lasting Impact?
“My favorite memory from camp is from my first year,” says Dante Garcia, a participant at a Power of Hope youth camp in the USA. “At the end of camp talent show, a fellow camper who had been quiet for most of the week stepped on stage with a guitar in hand. Everyone in the room could feel the courage he was taking as he began to share his song. When he stumbled with the lyrics, something magical happened. Instead of letting the room fall silent, his fellow youth started to sing with him and shout out encouragement. The community as a whole stood up and supported him in his performance, cheering him on. A distinct sense of pride and compassion swelled in my chest that night. I knew I wanted to grow to become a person that was authentic enough to support someone being vulnerable and courageous.”
“But I wasn’t always like that,” says Dante. “I was a reserved, quiet middle schooler when I arrived at my first camp, but I had an overwhelmingly positive experience. I felt an incredible freedom from the social judgments that often surround teenagers. I was hooked by the feeling and the confidence it gave me, so I started participating regularly in the Power of Hope summer camps. For one week a summer I was surrounded by a caring community and I felt safe to relinquish my teenage armor. It really helped me to move in a positive direction as a young man.”
2013 marks the 5th Birthday of PYE – an exciting time for the organization as we begin to see many of the young people that we and our partner organizations have worked with mature into confident young adults.
Billy Banyard was a youth at a camp in the UK, run by our partner organization LIFEbeat. “These camps offer you so much,” he says. “You get to experience so many different activities, things you would never normally associate yourself with or have the chance to try, things like yoga or flower arranging, or simply singing and painting.”
“More importantly, the camps also offer you the chance to discuss all of the issues in your life in a safe environment. It brings together different cultures, religions and communities and it shows you that at the base of it, we’re all really similar. That’s a powerful lesson to learn at any age.”
Siblings Claire and Devon Mortifee were also offered the chance to attend The Power of Hope camps. “It was wonderful to connect with so many different youth from all walks of life,” says Claire. “I learned that no matter how someone dresses, what they look like or where they’ve been, we all have the desire and capability to make meaningful connections with each other.”
Devon has some powerful memories from the camp. “I had a really powerful moment of transformation during one quite simple activity. The instructor asked us to share something with the group that they wouldn’t know or suspect. I was the first one to speak, so I thought about saying something simple like how I really liked the 69 Camaro, but for some reason I felt very supported and I decided to share something with much deeper meaning. It seemed to inspire the others to share some of the heartaches that they had endured through their lives too and it became a very beautiful moment. We were able to open up to one another in a very authentic way, even though we hadn’t known each other for very long at all.”
But it’s the lasting impact of the camps that really inspires everyone at PYE to continue pushing ourselves to reach our goal of empowering one million young people by 2015. “Simply put, I wouldn’t be me without the positive experiences I had at The Power of Hope,” says Dante.
Claire Mortifee agrees. “I continue to approach people with compassion and understanding. You have to remember that you never know what path someone has walked and that’s something I learned through camp.”
For both Billy and Dante, the camp experience has had a very real impact on the direction of their lives. Dante now facilitates at summer camps, while Billy recently completed his Creative Facilitation trainings. “On LIBEbeat I was offered the chance to facilitate a fun filled nature walk; a subject that I love,” says Billy. “That experience inspired me to become a facilitator and to go out and learn the skills that I needed. I’m currently studying and am hoping to facilitate at a LIFEbeat camp later this year.”
Are you a young person who has attended either a PYE led camp or a camp run by one of our partner organizations? If so, we would love to hear from you. Leave a comment for us below or stop by our Facebook page to let us know how you are doing.