Across the state, young adults and their mentors are gathering at scores of youth camps for annual staff training. As they anticipate the arrival of campers in the coming days, these staff members are building community and learning skills for engaging with, supporting, and teaching the campers who will travel from near and far for their summer camp experiences.
In Sebago, at boys’ Camp O-AT-KA, the camp’s leadership team and counseling staff had an opportunity this week to consider issues of inclusion and division with facilitators from the nonprofit organization High Resolves.
High Resolves Founders Mehrdad and Roya Baghai state in their founders’ statement that they created the organization to offer youth “peak experiences,” helping to transform their view of the world as global citizens. Such experiences are then “reinforced through repeated practice and real world application.” Offering immersive and interactive learning opportunities create natural learning opportunities, they say.
Today, High Resolves has a global impact. On Tuesday, New Orleans Program Director Danitra Wansley and U.S. National Program Director Roxy Pirnia brought their enthusiasm and experience to Camp O-AT-KA’s Great Hall, a gathering space on the camp’s expansive Lake Sebago waterfront. The two-hour program, High Resolves’ Identity and Purpose Peak Experience, is designed to create “ah-ha” moments, says Pirnia — creating awareness and self-discovery on the part of camp staff.
Camp staff members engaged in a variety of activities, all designed to help achieve specific learning outcomes, says Pirnia. Those outcomes included: 1) the intention that participants strengthen their understanding of “one people” — the need to balance “complex identities with the identities of others”; 2) help participants strengthen their awareness of their own and others’ biases, and help them recognize how essential this awareness is to “overcome harmful divisions and create inclusive communities”; 3) help participants identify ways of responding to divisive views and behaviors and participants’ roles in achieving their vision for a local and global community.
About 30 Camp O-AT-KA staff members — from leadership team members in well-established professional careers to adolescents and young adults in high school and college — engaged in a variety of activities presented by Danitra Wansley. They began with a “Find Your People” activity, an opportunity to form groups based on characteristics outlined on a photograph they all received. Wansley asked the group to then consider what elements of identity they focused on. “Why did you group how you did?” she asked.
She also asked the group how the exercise compared to “real life.” Participants agreed that it is customary to take more time to get to know other individuals before forming groups in real life.
“Why not a giant [single] group?” she asked. Like in real life, individuals try to “find your people.” In addition, smaller groups tend to have more in common, the group agreed.
The group also considered the concept of “collective identity,” belonging to one human race, but still celebrating differences.
The Identity and Purpose program also included a “Perception and Reality” exercise, exploring the formation of stereotypes and prejudices through “brain priming and bias” as well as identification of divisive views and behavior and a look at the impact of biases.
Wansley introduced an associations activity, asking group members to declare their thoughts upon reading certain words. She began with the word “teenager,” which elicited a broad range of responses, from “unpredictable” and “irresponsible” to “chaos” and “sleep.” Wansley then presented the word “African.” The group agreed that they were less vocal in this response, although they offered such words as “marginalized,” “American,” “afro,” and “Apartheid.” Finally, Wansley asked the group to consider the word “Muslim,” to which the group stated “misunderstood,” “prayer,” “peace,” and “terrorism.”
African and Muslim are “touchy subjects,” Wansley conceded, acknowledging “boundaries in our minds.” As a result, participants tend to be less forthcoming with thoughts and ideas based on associations, she said.
Wansley also introduced “The Pyramid of Hate,” created by the Anti-Defamation League. In the context of camp, she said staff should consider the base of the pyramid first, which describes “Biased Attitudes.” Within that category are stereotyping, insensitive remarks, fear of differences, non-inclusive language, microaggressions, justification of biases by seeking like-minded people, and accepting negative or misinformation.
High Resolves will continue its work with both Camp O-AT-KA and other Maine camps this summer. It will present the Identity and Purpose program to the staff of girls’ Camp Wawenock this week.
“We also plan to return to work with [O-AT-KA] campers directly in July, which will be a great way to link what staff have done with what their campers will do,” says Pirnia.
In addition, Camp O-AT-KA is among several Maine youth camps planning to introduce High Resolves Digital Resource Packs. These are 45-60 minute activities supporting the development of citizenship and leadership skills; the camp will use these resources with leadership cabin campers, says Pirnia.
Over the course of the summer, Pirnia says High Resolves will also offer programming to Maine Teen Camp, Hidden Valley Camp, Camp Sunshine, Camp Susan Curtis, and West End House Girls Camp.
Pirnia says Camp O-AT-KA, along with the nonprofit organization Maine Summer Camps, have been instrumental in High Resolves’ planned efforts in Maine. “A shout out to [O-AT-KA Executive Director] Heather Plati for embracing the entire High Resolves program offering this summer, and for hosting us at Camp O-AT-KA all week,” Pirnia says. ”We truly feel welcomed and part of the team.”
Issues of bias, identity, division and inclusion affect youngsters of all ages, as well as the adults who guide them. Maine youth camps are in the unique position of fostering healthy and open communities with the support of role models committed to helping kids thrive. “We are thrilled to partner with Maine Summer Camps to further develop the leadership and citizenship skills of staff and campers,” says Pirnia.
As National Program Director, Pirnia has a wealth of information for interested organizations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.