Most people thinking about their summer plans might be fantasizing about lying on a beach or catching up on some TV. In the background of our summer planning, we are aware that our society is currently faced with enormous social and environmental problems that we want to do something about. If our society is to make any headway in dealing with the growing gap between rich and poor, ongoing wars, cuts in critical services, environmental destruction, expanded corporate influence, and so much more, it is critical for people to be informed and engaged to take action about these and other issues.While the root causes for these many problems are complex, one common cause is lack of social engagement — something we want to do something about. In fact, this is what we are doing for our summer vacation.
Setting Kids Up for Apathy
We would like to debunk the myth of apathetic teenagers. Many youth instinctively want to do something about the social problems they learn about. Nevertheless, while school curriculae and the media cover some social issues, there is typically no call to action, critical analysis of root causes or solutions, or even a suggestion that individuals have the responsibility or power to make a difference. As a result, it is no surprise that youth are seen as “apathetic” or too young to understand or care, and then became jaded or disengaged adults, like many before them. In the absence of institutional encouragement, along with peer pressure not to care and a lack of youth role models making a difference in the community, it is tempting for young people to put their natural desire to help aside, particularly in the face of schoolwork, sports, and other activities.
The Antidote: YEA Camp
Our summer camp, Youth Empowered Action (YEA), was created in recognition of this missing and critical piece to inspire social engagement. YEA Camp works to support caring young people to be confident and inspired leaders, overcoming those challenges and making a difference. At a week-long leadership-based summer camp, our campers choose an issue they care about and develop the knowledge, skills, confidence and community to address that issue when they get home. They are nurtured and validated for their passion to make a difference and surrounded with encouragement, inspiring examples of social changemakers generating real results, and a network of support for them to take action to bring about the world they want to create.
We believe teenagers are at a critical juncture in life, exploring their identities and values, and that the current climate encourages a lifetime of disengagement. YEA’s strategy to address the many social issues we face is to ensure young people are aware and empowered to make an impact on those that are most meaningful to them. Our primary program to accomplish this is a week-long summer camp. Away from the distractions of school, activities, phones, and computers, YEA Camp launches youth on a lifetime journey of leadership and action for change.
Our curriculum is designed to take someone who cares about an issue but isn’t necessarily active or being effective, and transform them into someone who is making a significant difference. The four factors we see as most lacking and critical for individuals to effectively bring about social change are knowledge, skills, confidence and community, so the curriculum is based on these four areas. Campers get to meet other youth who care about the same things they do, and support each other in taking action. Campers gain a unique experience that they can take with them throughout their lives. They take away skills that they can use to make a difference in their personal lifestyles, their communities and the world. Campers also become part of a network of fellow campers and adults who can help them along their path. And have a great time! We play music, make art, goof around, make lifelong friends and enjoy the summer, all while getting inspired to bring about the world we want to live in.
YEA is building a youth culture where it’s “cool to care” and that we each can make a difference. YEA is an antidote to the prevailing messaging in current youth culture that promotes, at best, a kind of apathy, and at worst, a materialistic “me-centric” culture.
Youth who attend YEA Camp go back to their schools and communities as leaders and role models for their peers: they start clubs, create fundraisers and events, set up info tables and pass out flyers to raise awareness, speak out about what’s important to them, and take creative and bold action to make a difference. Their examples spark their peers’ curiosity to learn more, as well as the courage to join and take action. Each positive action a person takes moves the world closer to justice and sustainability.
YEA is part of a growing movement that is developing youth leadership for social change and is filling a gap where schools, documentaries, and the Internet leave off. The most critical attributes young people will need in the future are the initiative, confidence, commitment and community support to take the helm of the ship and steer it away from disastrous climate change and wars, and toward a more just and sustainable society.
Not Too Late
YEA Camp still has spots open for youth 12-17 who care about social change. Camp is held in Corbett, in the Gorge, from August 7-14. Φ
Laura Carver is the Oregon Director of Youth Empowered Action (YEA) and lives in Portland, OR. Jane Somerville is an 8th grader at Jane Goodall Environmental Middle School in Salem, OR. To learn more about the YEA program or to apply for YEA camp, visit www.yeacamp.org.