“This week, I felt the best I’ve ever felt. I came out of my comfort zone without my sense of safety being violated, and I grew from that.” -2017 NYLT alum
From Hannah Reece, Program and Training Coordinator, NYLC
On Saturday, July 22, on a walk through the wooded trails of the Audubon Center of the North Woods in Sandstone, MN, I looked down and saw no less than 50 mosquitos on each of my legs. Campers from across the U.S. would be arriving the next afternoon to attend The National Youth Leadership Training 2017, and as the staff walked the trails to familiarize ourselves with the facility, I felt my first pangs of anxiety.
A variety of anticipated concerns accompany facilitating a week-long leadership training with high schoolers in the middle of the woods. Beyond the obvious possibility that a camper will become sick or injured, I felt nervous that programming could go awry or that the campers may struggle to get along.
It became clear from the very first activity, though, that this year’s group of campers were going to be particularly inclusive and kind with each other. There were campers from Portland, OR, the Twin Cities, and Atlanta, GA. As I observed the campers lead each other through blindfolded challenges, work together to complete group tasks, and collaborate to make dinner and set up their camp for the evening, my anxiety dissipated. In fact, each moment and each day, my mental state transitioned from anxious to inspired.
At NYLT this year I got to watch young people from across the country create lasting bonds with each other, confront and challenge their own beliefs about power and privilege, and develop plans to address issues in their home communities. One of my favorite moments at camp this year happened during our Power and Privilege seminar. After reading Beverly Daniel Tatum’s “The Complexity of Identity: ‘Who Am I?'”, campers and staff got into groups of four and followed a discussion protocol. As facilitator of the activity, I had the chance to walk around and pick up on little snippets of conversation, and the amount of passion in the words of the campers gave me goosebumps. The buzz of the energy that afternoon was even louder than the buzz of the mosquitoes around us.
The last night of NYLT is always marked with a reflective final campfire. Campers and staff this year participated in a moving affirmation activity, walked together in silence to the fire, and had a chance to discuss the ways in which we were all transformed throughout the week. Closing campfire was a contemplative and affecting time, but the apex of my camp week happened the following morning, when we asked campers to share what they planned to tell their loved ones upon returning home. One camper, who had begun the week somewhat reserved, summed up her experience at NYLT by saying “This week, I felt the best I’ve ever felt. I came out of my comfort zone without my sense of safety being violated, and I grew from that.”
The National Youth Leadership Training continues to be a transformative experience for the young people who attend it, and I’m already smiling in anticipation for camp next year.