Summer Camp this year was virtual, and it was a HUGE success. We brought together our transgender/gender diverse campers and campers affected by HIV/AIDS from 10 different states for an experience that kept the true spirit of camp alive! When we first learned of in-person events being cancelled, we had to pull our entire team together to help us create a plan to keep serving our children, youth, and families. We knew that camp was often the only safe place for many of our campers; they needed each other, and they needed camp. So, with the help of our board of directors, volunteers, donors, staff and community members and the reminder that camp is centered from the heart, we began planning a virtual experience unlike any other!
The first step in making this camp experience possible was getting camp supplies and goodies to our campers. Thanks to our incredible donors and community, we were able to gather t-shirts, arts & crafts supplies, ingredients for cooking, and much more into Camp Bags to send to our campers! One of the parents mentioned how “seeing the excitement and light in their child’s eyes was everything” upon receiving the camp supplies. We knew more than ever that Camp Laurel was vital for our campers’ mental health.
We searched for facilitators from around the country to help create a virtual experience that would support our camper’s mental health, build support groups, teach the youth vital coping skills and most importantly that was a fun camp they would never forget. Campers were able to participate in our annual talent shows where they were able to express themselves in a safe space. This talent show is part of the camp traditions we do every year to build their confidence and allow them to feel safe performing and speaking in front of large groups. Gradually campers became more and more comfortable with themselves and each other so that they could build important peer connections and talk to one another about the adversities they face. It wasn’t long before they began to encourage each other to share their talents making the space inclusive, full of love, and safe for each camper to be themselves.
Another camp tradition that was kept alive in the virtual platform was doing make-up with professional experts at M.A.C.! This year our M.A.C. volunteers, we challenged our campers to do their own make-up while giving them tips and helpful advice. Seeing the final results, we could see the confidence had grown in our campers! In another program, our youth discussed the stigma and prejudices around being transgender with the support of volunteer mental health professionals. Not only were they able to express concerns and speak out about their own truths, but they also discussed positive ways to advocate for themselves and their community.
Cooking has always been a fun and enjoyable activity at camp, and we made it happen for virtual camp as well! Learning a new and healthy recipe allowed campers to gain independence, but they were also able to discuss healthy life-style choices and how it affects mental and physical health.
Our yoga session taught campers new yoga poses and stretches to stay active and healthy at home. We even had an expert graphic designer teach them how to draw caricatures and introduce them to a new kind of career path they can consider when they grow up.
All of these programs helped make this year’s summer camp a world of pure imagination where campers could come as they are, no filter necessary, support each other, grow and connect.
This summer, Camp Laurel continued its mission to empower youth, through a new virtual space where campers logged off camp everyday feeling inspired and believing that they had the power to thrive. We saw campers’ bravely step outside of their comfort zones and shine with the encouragement and love of their peers and their counselors. Camp may have been different this year, but it did not stop the Camp Laurel spirit, tradition, or mission from living on! This was definitely a summer camp for the books, and we could not have done it without the support and help of our volunteers, board of directors, donors, and staff. Thank you ALL for helping empower children, youth and families affected by HIV/AIDS and transgender/gender diverse youth!