2015 Fall Leadership Institute Report

DSCF3878

Nine 2015 Encampers from six different states (SD, MA,TX, CA, FL, NY) came to Albany, New York, by train, plane and bus to the Blue Mountain Center in Blue Mountain Lake for the 2015 Fall Encampment Institute. They arrived at this idyllic setting in the Adirondack Mountains eager to move forward on the projects they created at the summer Encampment program. The Blue Mountain Center is a wonderful incubator for artists and social justice activists from across the country and is a catalyst for community building and creativity. “What touched my heart the most was how friendly and supportive the Blue Mountain staff were.”Kendra, CA

The Encampment youth worked hard to be able to attend the Institute, raising funds for their transportation and bringing extra assignments to make up work for missing school days. There was much joy at being reunited again after the summer and conversations immediately delved into the activities and challenges of the fall. The Encampers were prepared to talk about how their projects were going and had an opportunity to present to the group to outline their challenges and successes and get support and ideas.

They also spent time on looking at how each project related to a larger social issue and at strategies for engaging and motivating people. We employed some of these strategies (including music and theater) during the weekend so they had an opportunity to practice.

As we know, it’s difficult to take an idea and put it into practice, particularly as a teenager. Some of the challenges the youth face are apathy amongst their peers and juggling all the demands on their time. The most useful thing for me was when we were given tools on how to get a group excited for a presentation. We learned different activities and games we could use to engage people in what we planned to present.”—Deanna, SD

There is an overwhelming consensus that the institute was an important and valuable experience, especially in terms of youth re-connecting and feeling the power of community. The young people shared deep, vulnerable feelings about the challenges they have faced on returning from the Encampment where they had changed, when their family and friends were unchanged. They faced the isolation of thinking differently and having a different set of priorities from many of their peers. It is clear that these Encampers have deep bonds of friendship and trust. For some of them, the EFC community is a beacon of hope in an otherwise discouraging world. For all of them, it is a source of support and encouragement for their projects and lives as social justice activists.

The group continued using music as an inspiration and often found themselves gathered around the piano, singing the songs of their Encampment and more. The Encampers’ singing brought other people staying at Blue Mountain Center into the room to share in their musical exuberance.  An unexpected addition to the weekend was how the Encampers helped each other with their homework, especially the essays they were writing related to social justice issues.

The institute concluded with a moving ritual where each person gave a gift of something to everyone: “I give you the gift of _____” (perseverance, community, balance, etc.). “What touched my heart the most was the end circles where we all went around and said something loving to everyone in the circle, it was so uplifting and beautiful!”—Sejeia, TX

 Young People:

  • re-engaged and participated in a reunion with some of their fellow Encampers
  • presented and discussed the status, challenges and successes of their projects
  • expressed their concerns, growth and needs for both their projects and the greater Encampment community
  • felt a genuine connection to and role in the development of the Encampment
  • gained skills in ways to do outreach and engage their peers and others in their projects  through a series of simulations that modeled such activities
  • investigated the process of teasing out the macro issue from the micro focus
  • received individualized attention from staff on their specific needs related to their projects and other life challenges

 “The most important activity to me at the Fall Leadership Institute was analyzing our community projects on the big paper in the sitting area. It was nice to introduce our ideas to our fellow Encampers and get feedback. I was able to get ideas from everyone and further my project. It was also nice to sit down, reconnect and feel like we came back to the Encampment all over again with the morning singing and enjoying the meals all together at the big dinner table.”—Marquise, NY

Suggestions for improving future institutes:

  • More time. It was too short.
  • More discussion of building community in home communities/asking allies for help with projects.
  • Work at the summer program giving some core templates and having some workshops and discussions about how to identify a project; be clear what need that project is addressing; what larger issue it is addressing; and a strategy and resources for implementation.
  • More systems for follow-up and support after the summer program for youth to support one another as they confront the difficulties of re-entry and isolation.
  • More systems to provide additional adult support for youth when they leave the summer program. Some of this did happen on its own, but we want to increase their access to adult resources for expertise and other kinds of support.
  • Some of our youth are very isolated, especially the rural youth, and we need to find additional ways to support them. We need to engage some of the organizations more and have an “organizing “ or project development toolkit for them to pull from. We have already begun working on this plan.
  • We cannot underestimate the power of their connections to one another and the staff. The question is how to expand upon that and keep those connections alive and growing in the larger context of social justice work. The Encampment becomes a kind of family that is very important in the lives of most of these young people, but especially those who are facing huge obstacles on a daily basis.
DSCF3878.JPG
Advertisements

Getting the ball rolling for EFC in the 21st century

1970 White Plains EncampmentRuth E. Thaler-Carter attended the Encampment in 1970 in White Plains, New York, and was pivotal to the revitalization of the Encampment in the 21st century. We spoke with Ruth about her early EFC experiences and how she came to start the ball rolling for the new Encampment in 2009.

Ruth is an award-winning freelance writer/editor and the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for freelancers. She also is in the process of launching ownership of a publishing business to work with independent, self-publishing authors. Ruth recently received a Big Pencil Award from Rochester, New York’s Writers and Books, for being “A teacher of adults who has inspired the creation and appreciation of literature” who has “contributed significantly in the advancement, creation, and understanding of literature in the Rochester community.”

What was your first impression of the Encampment?

It was an adventure, and I hoped to make friends and learn something about the world. My first impression was that I had found a community where I could be comfortable, useful and involved.

 What topic did you spend the most time on at the Encampment and what did you learn?

I participated in the United Nations Youth Assembly. It was fascinating! I knew French, German and Spanish, and was very interested in languages and international relations, so going to the UN and being part of that, even at the youth level, was very exciting.

At the Encampment, seeing the projects that other groups did was a great way to show us that one person could do something that made a difference. It showed us that it’s possible to get together with people from completely different backgrounds as friends and colleagues, and that young people could get things done in their communities. The Encampment showed (and shows) that ideals can work in the real world. EFC was hands-on, practical. You could take it home with you. Even if you didn’t use it right away, you could use it in later years. It was experience of a practical nature that you could use at various points in life – and it still is.

How has the Encampment influenced your life?

I didn’t go into a formal community organizing or public role, although I did work for the Urban League, a fair housing association and a national neighborhood nonprofit. Much of what I’ve done in regular jobs and almost everything I do as a freelancer, though, is with community nonprofits or organizations that are helpful to other people, and I see that as a result of the Encampment. I also made friendships that have continued to this day. There are lasting impacts beyond the friendships. Because of the Encampment, I had a greater and deeper exposure to people of other backgrounds and to activism, community leadership and the idea that one person can make a difference.

What is your favorite memory or story from the Encampment?

Oh, there are several, but the most important has to do with a first love. I’ll just leave it at that.

Tell us how the revitalization of the EFC evolved.

At a milestone number of years since my EFC experience, I wanted to reconnect. I contacted the Ethical Society and asked if there was any interest in a reunion, and they loved the idea. I had kept my Encampment yearbook, and I called or wrote to as many of my fellow Encampers as possible. Beth Daniels and Marina Chang from our Encampment helped me find a few more via the Internet. Margot Gibney had records of our Encampment, which also helped. Then it grew from just being White Plains 1970 to including as many people from other Encampment years and locations as possible, and then to creating the EFC alumni association.

All it took was one person saying, “Hey, let’s get together for a reunion. And, now that we’re in contact, what else can we do?” Other people said, “Let’s restart the organization!” Just as we learned in our Encampment, one or a few people can make things happen.

Ruth at 2015 Big Pencil event2

It’s different when it’s your friend

kendra marquise anahika cropped

Kendra Dawson attended the Encampment in both 2014 and 2015. She is currently attending Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles. Deanna Mousseau, a fellow 2015 Encamper, interviewed her recently. Kendra is shown above on far left with Marquise and Anakiha at the 2015 Encampment. 2016 Application.

Kendra, what was your first impression of the Encampment?

That it would be a long three weeks!

 How did the community government work?

The Encamper self-government was different because I was not used to making the rules myself. I believe the self-government worked well—after we agreed upon all of the rules.

What did you learn?

What I learned from the Encampment is that there is always a way to connect different people from different stories and backgrounds, as well as how to think critically about everything. The topic I spent the most time talking about was race relations in America and its effect on policy and law.

Your favorite memory?

My favorite memory from the Encampment was the time that Litzy shared her story about being an immigrant and coming to the United States for a better life. Her story helped me see immigration in a different perspective. I want to be lawyer specializing in civil rights and immigration issues. It’s different when it’s your friend who is involved in a social justice issue. The place she comes from and her story inspired me.

Most compelling field trip?

I was most affected by our visit to the Emmett Till Museum. It is built on the place where he was tortured and murdered, and the director was related to him, so the civil rights movement came alive for me in a different way.

You also attended our first Fall Leadership Institute–what were the highlights for you?

The most important activity was the presentations of where we are on our community projects and suggestions from other Encampers and staff. I attended the institute to clarify and improve some of the lesson plans that I have created for the program and the institute also helped me get a clearer idea of what my overall project goal is. My heart was touched by how friendly and supportive the Blue Mountain Center staff were.

Tell us about your project in your home community.

My project upon returning home was to establish a social justice workshop at Peace4Kids, a foster youth program that I have attended and for which I have volunteered. The goal of this project is to bring awareness of social justice issues to the foster youth community. Ultimately, the youths who show outstanding growth from the workshops could attend the Encampment. We will be meeting on Saturdays and I have lesson plans on the food desert and the school-to-prison pipeline. My program director at Peace4Kids is providing support. I have partnered with two donors (one is an EFC alum) who have agreed to sponsor youth to attend in 2016. It will launch later this month and will run until June, and the youth(s) will go off to the Encampment!