After almost two weeks of silence on the interwebs from one Dena Adriance, Wandering Story Hunter, I have at last returned from my most recent valiant adventure, emerging perhaps a bit worn and bruised but mostly energized by the affair. (Can you tell I’ve been reading Robin Hood?) That’s right, folks: I’ve spent the better part of the last week or so in the mountainous woods of central Washington, volunteering as a kitchen staff/mentor for the Power of Hope camp.
Now, it’s been several years since I last worked at a summer camp, and I can tell you right now that my body has most certainly aged since the last time I did so. I’d forgotten just how exhausting it is to be on duty 24/7, on your feet several hours a day, ushering often ornery and sometimes stubborn teenagers from activity to activity. I’m quite sure it wasn’t this difficult the last time I did this, especially given the fact that I was able to withstand it for whole summers at a time, let alone one puny week! After several days of such bodily abuse, I returned to my friend’s Eberley’s place on Sunday evening only to find that I was so exhausted I fell asleep at 9:30pm…
Let me paint you a few pictures from my week.
Image #1: Before campers arrive, the staff build an altar of objects from nature. Each staff contributes one piece: that piece represents their intention for the week. For myself, I chose a flowing green leafy vine that I found at the edge of a stream. My intention as a staff member: to nurture, nourish, and revive like the waters of the stream, to flow through the week providing support where it is needed, and to be a vibrant, soothing source of energy.
Image #2: The first morning that the campers are present, we create an intention tree. Similar to the staff altar, we announce our intentions for the week, only this time we write them out on colorful pieces of construction paper that we’ve decorated. My intention for myself: to do the things that scare me.
Image #3: At the end of every evening, we walk the campers back to their campsite, a beautiful quarter-mile moonlit walk among the pine trees into a little nook of a valley. There was a full moon last week, and most nights we were privileged to bask in its glow. I find myself stopping frequently to gaze in wonder at the incredible cloud formations and the starry sky. Sometimes the moon was so bright that it was hard to see the stars, even though there were no city lights for miles. I’m sure some of the campers thought I was crazy.
Image#4: On Theater Improv Night, groups of campers and staff are assigned a task: pick one prop and three words out of a hat, create a skit incorporating all of those things, and end with the line, “And that’s what the Power of Hope is all about.” Twenty minutes later, everyone comes back together to perform a ridiculous, nonsensical, but hilarious set of skits. We laugh a lot.
Image #5: In the mornings after breakfast, we hold a community meeting. What are we doing well as a community, and what could we be doing better? This is when difficult conversations sometimes arise: some of the youth don’t feel safe because some of their things have gone missing; some members of the community are not feeling included. How do we deal with these issues as a community? Celebrations are made here too: the group is growing more respectful of each other’s needs, learning to accommodate and think of the group before themselves. Later in the week, this becomes a place to talk about bigger issues in our home communities, such as various forms of oppression and how we might be able to contribute to change.
Image #6: Halfway through the week, the entire camp enters the Heart Circle, a sacred space, in silence. This is a ceremony that was adapted specifically for Power of Hope and gifted to the program by Maori elders, in hopes that it could provide a needed space of healing from many of the social ills which affect our communities and our youth today. The community stays in silence for as long as it takes (sometimes until 3am), for each person who feels called to step into the center of the circle and speak whatever will enable them to move into greater power in their lives. It is at times heartbreaking, at times solemn, at times uplifting. Ultimately, it is a safe space to let go of whatever is holding you back, and in some senses it is a lot like Fight Club: rule #1- you do not talk about Heart Circle; rule #2 – you DO NOT talk about Heart Circle; rule #3 – speakers speak as long as they have to.
Image #7: Doing the things that scare me. I taught my first-ever storytelling workshop this week, a true representation of the mantra, “Fake it till you make it.” I’ve barely started to figure out this storytelling business for myself, so how can I teach it to others? Yet this is exactly what I knew I needed to do. Four campers and four staff shared their stories with one another, and learned some of the basic principles to keep in mind when telling their stories. As it turns out, I have more resources than I’d realized in this domain, and I think the workshop went quite well. Much thanks both to Richard and Jules of EPIC International as well as Lynne and Lawrence of Portland Story Theater for teaching me most of what I know about storytelling! I’m excited to continue developing my skills in this arena.
I could continue with many more images, but suffice it to say that despite the exhaustion, camp was well worth it. I learned a lot, saw a lot of campers grow into more confident human beings, and met some incredible people. Now, as with everything, there were struggles – as I told one frustrated camper, ultimately, we are all imperfect human beings, and all we can do is try our best to make things right. Power of Hope is a microcosm of society at large, and as such many broader issues were present at this camp, but that is a topic for another entry.
The Power of Hope is an organization based out of Seattle (they also have a branch across the border in Vancouver, BC), that is focused on helping youth to find the power within them to create art, live life fully, and foster change within their communities. They operate out of the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, home to many other awesome organizations. Though they run some programs during the school year, their primary focus is on summer camps, and they’ve really put a lot of thought into the structure of the camp week. The first half of the week is focused on building community and creating a safe space for campers (and staff) to express themselves and to grow. Gradually, the focus becomes one of greater societal change, examining the things we want to change and learning the tools we have to create that positive change. The week wraps up with a lot of self-reflection and discussion about how to bring learnings back home, how to keep the “power of hope” alive within us, and what resources we can turn to throughout the year. On Sunday, everyone parted ways with plenty of hugs, tears, and laughter.
And that’s what the Power of Hope is all about.