“My Encampment experience was amazing, fun-filled and definitely a learning experience. I got to participate in multiple service learning projects including a shelter visit making beds and cooking food for the homeless. The Encampment wasn’t just work, work, work. We got to play and explore Chicago’s amazing downtown and other sight-seeing activities. Most importantly the Encampment gave me that family, community feel. We all became so close over a short period of time and leaned on each other for support.” –Kendra D (14IL)
Encampment 2014 was a huge success! Young people came from around the country, eager to make a difference. They created a working community focused on civic engagement and social justice. The excellent staff brought a wealth of knowledge and skill to the programming and community building. Headed by program director Jane Sapp, they updated the EFC’s time-tested methodology for today’s youth. The Chicago area is home to many EFC alums who enriched the program from start to finish.
Chicago itself served as a laboratory for exploring social justice issues. The Encampers got to meet with:
- Father Pfleger, nationally-known human rights activist;
- Timuel Black and Susan Power, elders and activists in the African-American and American Indian communities;
- Barbara Ransby of the Social Justice Initiative, and
- Mary Mitchell, reporter for the Chicago Sun Times.
They served meals and made beds at a homeless shelter. They did an environmental service learning project with the Shedd Aquarium. And, they learned how to line dance!
In keeping with EFC tradition, the 2014 Encampment spent the first week establishing their internal community and then used the Chicago area as a laboratory for exploring social justice issues. As part of this process, the group met with Father Michael Pfleger who is a nationally-known human rights activist and the pastor of Santa Sabina Catholic Church, an African-American parish on Chicago’s Southside. Father Pfleger is a controversial priest who has successfully provided alternatives to violence and continues to organize around issues of injustice in Chicago and beyond. Staff member Alex Coffin-Lennear reflected on the group’s introduction to the church: “. . . we were reminded of the magnitude of the violence by a 10’X10’ wall filled with pictures of children, teenagers, and adults of Chicago who had lost their lives to senseless acts of violence. Saint Sabina is a different kind of Catholic church— the emphasis is on social justice issues, the eradication of gangs, and the programs developed within the church to assist not only their members, but the people of the community.”
At Pacific Garden Mission Encampers served meals and made beds for homeless people. The Encampers were struck by how many people are homeless – 918 people sleep at the mission every night and 1,400 meals are served daily. They wanted to know, what does it take to feed all these people? Their guide at the shelter was a homeless man who told them his moving story. They got to make a lot of beds, some with worn-out sheets in the huge rooms filled with bunk beds. And they got to serve meals to those without homes. Many Encampers remarked on how profound this experience was for them. “Making the beds on July 4th was huge. Normally I would be with friends and family celebrating, but your problems aren’t problems once you walk into the mission.”
Each Encamper participated in a core workshop:
- Social Movements (facilitated by Michael Carter),
- Through an Indigenous Lens, (facilitated by Mabel Picotte)
- Inner View/Community Journalism (facilitated by Anika Nailah), and
- Community Organizing (facilitated by Aisha Truss-Miller).
The Inner View/Community Journalism group was invited by veteran reporter Mary Mitchell to visit the offices of the Chicago Sun Times and meet with her. This resulted in a booklet that gives reflections of the youth on their EFC experiences, poems, interviews with each other, and an interview with Mary Mitchell. It features beautiful photographs taken by Encamper K.C. O’Hara.
The Encampers also got to meet with and learn from two venerable elders of the Chicago community: Timuel Black and Susan Kelly Power. Mr. Black is a noted educator, historian and activist, and was the organizer for the Chicago contingent of the 1963 March on Washington. “I never lose hope,” he once said. “I believe that I have responsibilities to help younger people to obtain hopes and dreams. Their present condition may be very discouraging; my aim is to help them regain a sense of hope for the future. My main interest is in building a better America, building a better world.” Susan Kelly Power, historian and one of the founders of the American Indian Center in Chicago, is concerned with setting the historical record straight and making sure the American Indian population in Chicago has a voice.
The 2014 Encampers and staff created a community where each person felt heard and respected. Through the traditional EFC methodology, the Encampers – as individuals and as a group – gave voice to their concerns, new ideas, and hopes for the future. In addition, program director Jane Sapp guided the integration of art modalities into the summer program. Along with their core workshop, each Encamper also participated in an arts workshop (music, writing, and dance). The Encampers showcased their multi-media and arts presentations at the celebration evening that marked the end of the summer program. They also wrote and performed two songs. Ms. Sapp commented: “For the young people who participated it’s as simple and as profound as we gave them an experience of a community. We honored their experiences and helped them find ways to express what is already inside of them – to experience themselves as “knowers” and for all of us to learn from each other.”