Volume XI | Issue 2 | Fall 2011
Camp Ford participants mug for the camera at a remote campsite in Northern California. Author Amy Gabriel (front row, center), served as an assistant coordinator. Photo: Courtesy Amy Gabriel

‘The best week of my summer’

How to become a youth leader in only seven days

By Amy Gabriel

I recently returned from Paradise Point, a remote campsite in the heart of Northern California at which the youth leadership event Camp Ford is held. 

This 2-year-old collaboration between The Ford Family Foundation, Rural Development Initiatives, the Siskiyou Family YMCA and Adventure Whitewater instills leadership values in the incoming high school freshmen of Siskiyou County. I began my involvement in the first-ever Camp Ford as a counselor in July 2010. I returned twice this past summer as an assistant coordinator. 

Once I arrived home, I realized that the perfect subject for an article written from a youth’s perspective would be my experience at camp. So, after dousing myself with anti-itch cream (the mosquitoes were vicious), I sat down to summarize the best week of my summer.

Step One: “Do not listen to your parents”

On arrival as they piled off the bus, the young campers were forced to disregard a long-taught lesson: “Don’t talk to strangers!” They were stranded in the middle of a forest with no cell reception and the sole option of trusting the strangers with whom they would share this experience — fellow campers, counselors and coordinators.

Step Two: “Be a Freak”

My favorite activity was the creation of the “Freak Flag.” Campers were given portions of a “Welcome to Camp Ford” banner and were instructed to use whatever artistic medium they desired to express their inner “freak.” Soon the small swatches of fabrics were explosions of words, colors and pictures.

Step Three: “Lower your waterline”

Every person is an iceberg. From the surface of the ocean, only a small percentage of one’s mass can be seen, but what is below the surface holds the most value. Campers were challenged to “lower their waterline” and confront their fears and insecurities. In the activity known as, “If You Really Knew Me,” campers finished that sentence. They shared truths that were hidden in the depths of their oceans. Their confessions, such as being afraid of judgment and disliking the color of their hair, were greeted with nods, applause and the weightlessness of knowing they were not alone.

Step Four: “Do things you normally would not do”

Whether it was whitewater rafting, making hemp bracelets or tasting freshly roasted rattlesnake, campers were encouraged to experience new things. One would be surprised what actually does taste “just like chicken.”

Step Five: “Give up”

Though this is not common leadership advice, at Camp Ford it is of the utmost importance. We teach campers that true success comes from letting go. We teach them to give up fears, selfishness, comfort zones, prejudices and holding back. No one can stop them from being strong, powerful, beautiful, courageous leaders. Not even them.

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