Excerpt from Val, a Camp Everytown alum:
I want to thank Silicon Valley Faces for inviting me here today to share a collection of significant memories that have shaped me into the woman I am today. My memories of Camp Everytown are still near and dear to my heart because I have experienced, first hand, its power to positively impact lives.
Ten years ago, I said farewell to my predominantly Latino neighborhood in East San Jose, California and moved north to the big city by the bay, San Francisco, where I currently live and work as a multi-media storyteller. Behind every smile there’s a secret - and when a child walks around holding one as big as mine - they can feel ALONE, VOICELESS, TRAPPED IN A BOX with no open doors and very little light. As a child who moved frequently, because of my father’s inability to consistently support his family, it was hard to keep and make new friends. Freshmen year at Independence High School, I felt lost amongst a sea of thousands of wandering students.
One morning, a boy turned around and asked me, “Why are you so quiet?” Shocked and offended by his question, I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs, “I have a lot on my mind,” but embarrassed I instead gave an awkward smile, shrugged and didn’t say a word. I grew up defined by a family secret, so much so, I thought if people knew who I was and where I came from, they wouldn’t accept me. But as I grew older I realized my family wasn’t the only one with problems.
In the spring of my Junior year, I was one out of 100 Independence High School students invited to Camp Everytown. In this new environment, nerves first overwhelmed me, but I soon learned to exit my comfort zone and allow others to get to know the real me by sharing my voice.
In one memorable small group discussion, we were asked to make a human sculpture of our family and to describe it. No one had asked about my family life before, so at first I wasn’t sure how much to say. When it was my turn, tears began to fill my eyes as I placed my father in a far corner on the other side of the room. Everyone sat respectfully as they listened to my trembling, novice voice reveal my family’s secret for the first time. I took a deep breath and proceeded to tell a story. Late one night when my father was sleeping, my mother finally built up her courage and told my brothers, sister and I to quickly gather our belongings. Breathless and not looking back, with only the full moon shining on us, we ran away from my father’s paranoid and monstrous behavior. Living with him had been like a nightmare I could never wake up from. After my story, with every hug I received, I felt so thankful that Camp Everytown gave me a place to speak honestly and openly about my personal family experiences. Surrounded by people I no longer saw as strangers, but as new friends I trusted, I began to feel safe and accepted. I no longer felt alone or isolated from my classmates; Camp Everytown taught me that everyone has hardships and has equally powerful stories to share.
In a short amount of time, Camp Everytown became a place where empathy melted judgment and unfamiliar faces became family. On our last day, we stood shoulder to shoulder in a circle of diversity, but in the end, all we saw was commonality. We were all human, united by our shared experiences and by our new desire to make the world a better place one step at a time.
Camp Everytown was a life changing, transformative experience that ignited a spark inside me. Since it taught me how to be aware of myself and of the bigger world around me, I returned home inspired to make change. The following school year, I became a Camp Everytown Club officer and returned to camp to help spread awareness of respect, acceptance and appreciation of diversity across my high school campus. Later, I grew committed to understanding and helping different cultures internationally. After I studied media production at the University of San Francisco, a school with a strong social justice mission, I volunteered with the Peace Corps in Macedonia to exchange cultures and to teach 4th-8th grade students how to communicate in the English language with confidence. And soon, I’m off to earn a master’s degree in International Education at NYU, with plans to design children’s arts programs that bridge cultures through storytelling. From the lessons learned at Camp Everytown, I strive to capture beauty in diverse cultures, be a voice for social justice and work with non-profits that help empower women and children all over the world.
I believe that Camp Everytown’s message will ripple effect and gradually reach the rest of our global society to create harmony. The more we take the time to understand the diverse cultures around us, the more we work together towards a peaceful, sustainable community. I was an emotionally wounded child terrified to share my voice, but Camp Everytown showed me light for a brighter future outside of my box. Thank you Camp Everytown.
"I'm bringing back to my community what I learned from Camp... including people, helping people, not judging, and standing up for myself and others."
These are the words that Amy, a senior at Mountain View High School, wrote in her college application essay to describe how Camp Everytown changed the way she perceives others.
Born in China, adopted by Caucasian American parents, and raised in an interfaith family, Amy had multicultural experiences of her own to share. Like many high school students attending Camp, she was nervous but excited for the upcoming activities.
Over the next four days she participated in a variety of exercises, ranging from topics such as racism to sexual orientation. One exercise gave students a simulated disability. Eating meals without the ability to see or with the use of only one arm was an enlightening experience. Another memorable activity involved responding to statements about violence, personal issues, and other stressful situations. Amy shares that it was "really emotionally intensive... [it] made me realize that we're not the only ones who have been going through hard times."
However, Amy revealed that the activity that held the greatest impact for her personally was focused on gender stereotypes. She described a tense atmosphere as the girls recounted the derogatory slurs they'd experienced. After the boys began to show their vulnerabilities, both "sides" felt more connected to and compassionate towards each other. This, among other eye-opening activities, was why Amy was inspired to write about her time at Camp Everytown.
Amy is looking forward to college next year and contemplating a major in international business. Wishing you all the best, Amy!
Before senior high school student, Pablo, attended FACES' Common Ground and Camp Everytown, he was an eighth grader who witnessed the change that these programs had on his older brother.
Common Ground, a 4-day summer program asks incoming high school freshmen to come together before they embark on their journey through the next four years of their high school career. During the program, students commit to respecting one another and dissecting the way they form opinions of themselves and their peers. They are challenged to break down barriers that often divide them into cliques. They embrace their commonalities as well as understand the struggles that they all may face.
As a freshman, Pablo's older brother was a Counselor-in-Training at Common Ground. Pablo says that he was amazed when he and his brother both answered a personal family question the same way. He was shocked that he and his brother felt identically about their family dynamics and that they had never discussed it.
Stories from his classmates about what they had endured outside of school astounded him. Because of the stories that he heard, he is much more conscious of the words that he chooses to use and recognizes their impact. He admits that he formerly used derogatory words of which he is now ashamed. He expressed that if he has a daughter he wants to be a great father and will teach her self-worth.
Pablo was so changed by his first year at Common Ground that he decided to go to Camp Everytown and return to both programs as a Counselor-in-Training. He has stepped in as co-president of the Camp-inspired "Be the Change" club at Fremont High. "My goal is to come back in 10 years and see this club thriving."
Next year, Pablo is off to college to study mechanical engineering. We are so excited for him and know that he will do incredible things!