Themis’ Story: Transforming Work into Play

Themistoklis Gkion is a lead facilitator with PYE and the Founder and Learning Experience Architect at Flow Athens in Greece, but he doesn’t stop there.  Themis (for short) has a passion for education that has shaped his career path, bringing him in a full circle that starts and ends with helping others. 

Themis grew up surrounded by education and began working at the school his grandmother owned when he was a teenager. He found himself captivated when observing people learn and grow and solve problems: “I was always fascinated when I could see the spark in the kids’ eyes when they were fighting to address a challenge.” 

Themis went on to pursue various career paths. He started as an engineer, and then took on a managerial position in a small school. He then moved to finance to become a derivatives trader. “I was a free spirit. I was always seeking something to give me meaning and purpose in my life.” Themis’s taste for learning and education never subsided, and this led him to his current mission.  

Themis started Flow Athens in 2010 to change education and fill the gaps of the current system. Flow Athens designs and facilitates experiences to teach youth and adults forward-thinking skills, creativity, mechanisms for innovation, collaboration and more. Themis uses games and activities to foster learning that goes beyond what’s taught in a classroom, and that’s where PYE comes into play.

themisPYE has given Themis the confidence to be a teacher and to teach more effectively, taking Flow Athens to another level. “PYE has given me a wealth of arts-based activities, as well as a process to facilitate experiential learning programs.”  Themis began working with PYE a few years ago after attending Creative Facilitation Training in Athens, Greece. The structured and cohesive activities that PYE offers allowed Themis to improve his and his student’s work. “I had been using games and technology, and PYE has been using arts-based activities in order to pursue the same goal; cultivate 21st century skills. There was a lot of similarities and complementarities, and that’s how we started working together.”

Through Flow Athens Themis was able to get back to his roots in education and develop a new mission to help others acquire skills that aren’t offered in traditional school systems. “I want to help youth develop the skills that will allow them pursue their careers and actually conduct meaningful lives, find meaning in whatever they do and follow their passions.”

Themis also uses PYE techniques in his work with refugees. He has used the creative classroom model to empower teachers from refugee schools, who informally teach young refugees that have migrated to Greece. “We’re offering them the creative community model because it’s really suitable and adaptable for audiences of different ages and different languages. It’s proven a very useful and versatile tool for the teachers in order to be able to facilitate such diverse classes.”

Themis’s advice for anyone who wants to help others succeed, is to look deep inside yourself to determine what your real motives are; to find your real passions and driving forces, and above all  to discover the child within you. “It’s so much better when you can work with youth with a playful attitude. It’s so much easier to invite their imagination. Most of my work, I totally enjoy it. It’s like playing.”

Lakota’s Story: Finding His Inner ‘Piece’

Lakota Bisaillon recently graduated from our Power of Hope Camp on Whidbey Island last summer (2016).

As he was growing up, traditional educators made many attempts at stamping labels on him. Dyslexia, Asperger’s, PDD, but he kept washing those off. Until he began to see his challenges as gifts; gifts that empower and give focus.  

Lakota attended Power of Hope camp for 5 years. He came for the first time when he was just 13, and he feared he would be bullied. Instead he grew mighty and even mightier every summer. After he graduated from high school last year, he earned a black belt in taekwondo, completed his last PYE camp, and attended a quarter in college. THEN he made his way solo across the world to attend Kunyu Mountain Shaolin Academy in Muping, China, where he has been since the first day of this year.

Lakota Bisaillon

There, he and 34th generation monks and other students climb the mountain very early each morning to meditate in the same cave where Confucius pondered meaning for 9 years.  

After the long scramble down, they eat a quick bowl of fresh veggies, then train intensely for 8 hours. Evenings bring classes of acupuncture, calligraphy and Mandarin. 

His mother Mary Delacruz shares:“The last message that I got from him was filled with gratitude and the fact that he has found his inner ‘piece’. I love the entendre of that wording.  

To me, I think he found a piece of power along with a deep calming quiet. But, I do not think he would have found his power if it were not for the journey’s beginning through PYE and both of you, Peggy and Nadia, as well as from Charlie.  

And all of the incredible folk that you hired on and campers that you served to combine for the most empowering events on earth…know that he will pass on all the gifts you brought out in him to help empower many others over his lifetime.”

A Spark Ignited: Xanthippi Anastasiadou

A Spark Ignited: Xanthippi Anastasiadou

Xanthippi Anastasiadou with a fellow teacher training participant in Greece.Xanthippi Anastasiadou is a music teacher at a primary school in Thessaloniki, Greece and
Master’s student at the University of Macedonia.

A full year after participating in PYE’s Creative Facilitation training in Greece, she reported, “I use all of the tools I learned with my students—group songs, rhythm exercises, everything!

At the end of last year I used the ‘poetry process’ with the students where they wrote a poem, we set it to music, and they performed it for their parents. The parents were so impressed.

These tools bring out my creativity and the creativity in my students, and they love them. I have even run a “mini” Creative Facilitation session with my colleagues. There is huge potential for schools to be more creative, and Creative Facilitation is so important to this.”


If you want to give yourself a blast of hope and inspiration, click here to hear more stories like Cecilia’s.

Emphasizing Equity at Creative Community Camps

IndigenEYEZ Trainer Warren Hooley at Camp Confluence

Photo Credit: Marty Oppenheimer
IndigenEYEZ Trainer Warren Hooley at Camp Confluence

In May we held our very first “Camp Confluence” – a 5-day gathering that brought camp managers and facilitators from six organizations that lead Creative Community-based Camps for teenagers in the Pacific Northwest, USA. We met at a conference center on the shores of Whidbey Island, just north of Seattle. The Confluence was both a reunion and a reboot for the 40 participants who spent five days reflecting on the camp experience and increasing their skills to provide even deeper impact.

Exploring ways to raise awareness about equity at the camps sat at the heart of the Confluence. “Learning from people different than yourself” has been a core goal of camps since the first Power of Hope in 1996. And evaluations show that young people successfully develop the ability to embrace differences when they are back in their schools and communities. But there was a consensus that we can go further by addressing issues of equity more directly at camp. The idea emerged to work with an additional camp goal that reads: “Be Aware of Equity” or “Build an Equitable Community,” thus opening the door to deeper discussions around these issues. We are looking forward to hearing what all six organizations learn at their camps this summer.

Rich with opportunities for creative expression, the confluence produced the same life-giving effects that camp does for young people. “I have never in my life experienced such a transformational few days. I came back into my home life and career with renewed enthusiasm and completely restored optimism!” said Carrie Besko, administrator for IndigenEYEZ, an organization that serves First Nations communities in British Columbia, Canada. “Confluence provided a wonderful opportunity to create and play and sing and dance with other folks committed to social action,” reflected Lucy Kingsley from the Culture Jam camp in Oregon.

One thing this Confluence made clear, meeting face-to-face, even very occasionally, brings new depth and creativity to our shared work. “Our world is evolving so quickly, I’m deeply grateful that this community is here to listen deeply and respond with the urgency, love and hope that’s found when creativity and resolve come together,” said Dan Peters from Power of Hope Canada. We plan to keep the community strong on-line and to hold a Camp Confluence every other year!

Thank you to the organizations that participated: Power of Hope Canada, IndigenEYEZ, Power of Hope US, Young Women Empowered, Culture Jam, and Camp Lead.

Help PYE Trainer Andrew Nalani empower youth in East Africa

Support and empower youth in East Africa.


Andrew Nalani AYLE campPYE trainer Andrew Nalani is running a residential camp for 50 youth from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda called African Youth Leadership Experience. This is Andrew’s second time running the camp and he is currently in the fundraising stage, collecting donations for scholarships that will allow the youth to attend the camp. AYLE runs for 7 days, from June 15th to the 22nd in Lweza, Uganda, for East-African youth aged 15 to 20.

AYLE teaches leadership and entrepreneurial skills through emotional intelligence, creativity and project management. Andrew hopes to raise $8,000 to cover transportation costs and location costs for the camp, and has raised $1,090 since April.

Andrew and his two partners, Jakob and Francis, started AYLE in 2014 and have since run one other AYLE camp. They partnered with PYE Global and the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence to evaluate the impacts of AYLE, and they are putting their research to use to improve this year’s camp.

To donate to the African Youth Leadership Experience, and help Andrew empower East African youth,  you can visit his fundraising website here:


For more information and to keep updated on Andrew’s camp, check out the African Youth Leadership Experience Facebook page! 


Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Funds Youth Empowerment in Jamaica


When you buy Ben and Jerry’s One Love Ice Cream, you Support the One Love Camp in Jamaica!

If your ‘one love’ is ice cream, you’re in luck. Ben and Jerry’s One Love ice cream flavor is now available in Europe and the USA!

Until recently One Love ice cream was only available in Europe, but last May 22 saw the launch of the flavor in the USA at The One Love Session, hosted by Ziggy Marley along with Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield at the Roxy Hollywood Theater in Los Angeles.

Together with partners Ben & Jerry’s and the Bob Marley Foundation, we launched the One Love Youth Camp in Jamaica in 2015 to honor Bob Marley’s Legacy and empower youth. So far, the program has provided creative facilitation training to 70 teachers and camp experiences for 140 teens. The program is funded entirely from the sales of Ben and Jerry’s One Love flavor ice cream.

So gather your friends and family, enjoy some One Love ice cream, and put on some Bob Marley on for a fun way to support the One Love Youth Camp.

Big thanks to our incredible partners in the program Ben and Jerry’s and The Bob Marley Foundation.

Click the picture below to watch the full launch event, including a performance of Bob Marley’s legendary song “One Love” by Ziggy Marley and PYE facilitator and musician Aaron Nigel Smith!



One Love Youth Camp: The inside scoop by Aaron Nigel Smith

olyc reunion2017

One Love Youth Camp youth and facilitators in Jamaica. Musician and PYE Facilitator Aaron Nigel Smith front row centre, blue shirt, big smile!

A few years ago, I received an email from my friends at the Bob Marley Foundation about the upcoming One Love Youth in Jamaica. I knew I had to be involved, and I wasn’t disappointed.  

At the One Love Camp, students, teachers and community leaders from rural and urban Jamaica come together in a beautiful natural setting to learn, grow, and build community. Facilitators trained in PYE’s Creative Community Model lead campers through creative activities, group discussions, arts workshops and performances all designed to empower them to develop important life skills like creativity, confidence, and a sense of purpose.

We have the special opportunity at the One Love Camp to infuse the music, message and legacy of Bob Marley into the program. We hear stories from elders who knew Bob, we explore the meaning of his lyrics, and we sing his songs of unity, love and empowerment. It’s through lessons like these that the youth access tools for creating positive change in their lives, communities and the world.

The camp is funded by proceeds from Ben & Jerry’s One Love ice cream, a special tribute flavor dedicated to the legacy of Bob Marley. The flavor was first introduced in Europe a few years ago and is now available in the US. Ben & Jerry’s commitment to this project has been nothing short of awesome. The first year of camp, for example, Ben & Jerry’s Board Chair Jeff Furman came out to spend a few days with us. In addition to taking the time to personally connect with the staff and youth, he arranged to have ice cream delivered to our remote campsite in 80 plus degree temperatures. I believe he had to fly the ice cream to the island, package it in dry ice and then rush it to the campsite in a van. It was a joy to see the appreciation of the campers and staff.
Now in its third year, it’s exciting to see how fully the Jamaican staff and youth have embraced the Creative Community Model. So far, PYE trainers have provided professional development for 70 teachers and youth workers, representing 30 schools and youth organizations. The training includes being at the camp itself. Following camp, the teachers and youth workers take what they’ve learned back to their communities to directly benefit more of Jamaica’s underserved youth. Over 140 teens have directly experienced the One Love Camp.

This quote from one of our recent campers speaks to the experience from the perspective of our youth.

“At the One Love Youth Camp I learned to listen to people, to be creative, to love myself more, and to transform the environment I am in.”

Desmond, a camper at the very first camp, is now on the training path to become a PYE facilitator. I have personally witnessed his journey. When I met Desmond, he rarely attended classes at school and seemed to be on the path that has led many of his community toward crime or violence. Desmond’s interest was initially sparked by a drumming program that I had brought to his high school, and when he attended the first One Love Youth Camp his real transformation began. After camp, Desmond went back to school and took on a leadership role in the drumming program. His teachers and counselors noticed significant improvement in his school attendance, his willingness to engage, and his positive contributions to the community.

This year Desmond served as one of our camp mentors, which is the first step to becoming a facilitator. In July, he is making his first-ever trip to the US to continue his training path as a mentor at a Creative Community Model camp in Oregon. Desmond has told me on numerous occasions that he dreams of traveling the world doing youth empowerment work. His story demonstrates for me the true power of experiences like the One Love Youth Camp. It’s an honor and privilege to be a part of such a special project.


Click here to see Aaron and Ziggy on stage at the launch of the One Love flavor where they sing “One Love” with members of Aaron’s 1 World (Youth) Chorus. Watch this video to see the One Love Youth Camp in action.

 Aaron Nigel Smith is an accomplished musician, founder of 1 World Chorus and a PYE Global Facilitator based in Oregon, USA.

Peggy’s Facilitation Tip: A Warm—but not too warm—Welcome


Years ago, a camp participant told me, “I was so nervous when I got here, but the minute I walked in the door, I knew I’d be okay.” 

Think for a moment about the mix of emotions that emerge when you enter a new group…anxiety, fear, insecurity, curiosity, excitement. The beginning of a program is often the most awkward time for youth and adults. Here are some things you can do to smooth the transition and help your program get off to a good start:

  1. Before your program, take a good look at your list of students or participants. Become familiar with their names and look for any associations that might help you remember the names. Is a participant from your same town? Do they work for an organization you admire? Have they asked a provocative question in their registration form? Tuck these associations away to bring out later.
  2. Set your room up with beautiful hand-made signs and obvious places for coats and bags. Have coffee and tea ready. This will make your participants feel cared for.
  3. Greet people as they arrive with a smile. Meet them where they are at by being friendly but not overwhelmingly excited. When they tell you their name, if associations come to you, use that information. “Oh you are the program director of Youth Power! I’d love to learn more about your organization.” Or, “You’re from Barcelona. I visited there last year.” People are inevitably surprised by this recognition. They relax and feel welcome.
  4. Participate in your community building activities along with your participants. If they are making creative nametags, jump in and join the casual conversation. Appreciate the nametags as they emerge. If you lead name games play them as well. This will help you learn the names along with everyone else.

A warm, safe learning community is built on many small acts carried out with care and consideration. Don’t overlook the small stuff. It will make all the difference.

Peggy Taylor, MEd is the Co-founder of PYE Global

Peggy’s Facilitation Tip: The Power of Gratitude

Looking for an easy way to strengthen your programs? Try gratitude.

Gratitude empowers facilitationResearch shows that expressing gratitude leads to a happier life. According to the Harvard Mental Health Newsletter, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

At Power of Hope youth camps, we have found that gratitude not only makes us happier, it helps build a strong, safe community. Each night, we hold a Gratitude Circle before dinner, inviting everyone to share thanks for something that happened during that day or something that someone did for them. The gratitude circle is infectious and the feel-good effect results in extra community bonding.

Grow Your Gratitude

Here are a few ways to foster an “attitude of gratitude” in your group:

Conduct a gratitude check-in

Do a check-in where each participant states their name and something they are thankful for.

Thank individuals

Take the time to thank participants when they speak up in the group. The more specific you can be the better, and see if you can recognize a strength in the person. “Thank you for having the courage to start the discussion,” or “Thank you for being so vulnerable” are great ways to show gratitude and acknowledge unique contributions.

Acknowledge the group

Use phrases like “I appreciate how you are all participating,” or “I admire the level of creative risk you are taking.”

Build appreciations into your activities

When leading an activity in a small group that requires creative risk taking or self-disclosure, end with a quick appreciation circle in which, one at a time, each participant turns to the person to their right and tells them something they appreciate about them.

Notice the positive field that develops as you bring gratitude into your facilitation. This is not to say that your programs should be nothing but love and light. In fact, practicing gratitude will help build the resilience your participants need to wade into the deep waters of conflict and take on challenging issues.

For more ideas about gratitude read “In Praise of Gratitude,” Harvard Mental Health Newsletter.

In Europe, PYE Partners to Improve Education

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This December, teachers from across the UK will converge on the Studio School in Liverpool for PYE’s Creative Classroom training. This new group of teachers are part of the second phase of our successful partnership with Ashoka UK and the Ellis Campbell Foundation.

These teachers, learning practical techniques to make their teaching more powerful, are part of efforts to create an educational approach that works for a changing Europe.

New World, New Needs

As the continent continues to be shaken by deep economic, political, and social shifts—the Euro debt crisis, record levels of youth unemployment, migration, and popular protests—profound and systemic change is dramatically reshaping the prospects of young people. The world is changing too fast for their current outmoded educational system to keep up.

Creative classroom training at School 21

Teachers take part in Creative Classroom training at School 21 in London.

But a few schools and educators are seeking a better way forward. They are exploring a holistic approach to education that empowers teachers and equips students with the creativity, social-emotional literacy and inner motivation necessary skills for success in life and work.
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