“The air is different up here,” a camper tells me. On this particular evening it feels cool and fresh and the golden hills surrounding us smell like apples and honey, but earthy too. But more important than the quality of air or light in this magical place, or this feeling of being on top of the world, are the people I’m on top of the world with: twenty-four teenagers from diverse racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, religious, and family lifestyle backgrounds and six amazing youth development counselors full of energy, love, and amazing teaching techniques.
We all completed a strenuous, four-hour hike up Black Mountain yesterday. This journey is a focal piece of the Farm and Wilderness Camp experience, an event it seems we’re preparing for, actually doing, or reflecting on for the majority of our twelve-day session. It is a big deal. It is both a physical and emotional challenge, and also something that we do as a community, supporting each other, and as individuals, pushing ourselves.
Tonight is special; our evening activity is Common Ground. As we begin, I can feel the change in energy; campers’ faces begin to look more pensive, a tad more serious, new friends reach out to hold one another’s hands. A camper bravely steps into the circle and shares about his parents’ divorce. Ten other people step into the circle as well. This means that they can identify with the speaker’s experience and as the eleven of them stand there for a moment, this young man is not alone.
This is the cornerstone of Hidden Villa Summer Camp program: empathy-building between youth and staff from all walks of life. This piece is an integral part of the summer camp experience; the organic camaraderie that springs into place when we’re together on top of a mountain, when we’ve completed a challenge together.
Summer Camp at Hidden Villa gives youth the space to explore who they are, who they want to be and to learn about the unknown. As children and youth make connections between their day-to-day lives and the unfamiliar, they begin to better understand themselves as individuals as well as active players in larger social, cultural, environmental and political systems.