This past weekend I took some time off to volunteer as a Co-Director for Camp Anytown. This camp’s curriculum was founded in 1957 and designed to educate, liberate, and empower high school aged participants, with a focus on diversity and leadership for social justice. Anytown’s motto is “Breaking Down Barriers, Building Up Communities,” which highlights the fact that a lot of the work done at camp is focused on not just tolerating, but respecting and celebrating each other’s differences and unify around our commonalities as members of the human race.
So many things draw me back to camp. One of the big factors is the staff. It was at Anytown that I had the pleasure of getting to know the late and great Shannon West, who really helped Clark County step up the quality and coordination of its homeless services. It was at camp that I met now-Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson. I’ve gotten to know and become close to a variety of community leaders, from the folks who are out on the front lines every day working jobs that address society’s problems, to the volunteers for whom this is their main or only cause, to the social work students putting their lessons into action, and of course the former delegates who are coming to give back to a camp that changed their life. Our head medic is also our head chef, and not only does he make delicious food, he inspires me by always coming up to camp, buying food, and keeping everyone healthy, all for free. Oh, and in between camps he’s a paramedic for the Fire Department!
But what really amazes me are the student delegates. Some are starting organizations and running projects at 14. Others were in jail at 16 and are working to turn their lives around; still others are homeless. Some are separated from their families through our broken immigration system. In all, these delegates not only represent their schools and their generation, they also represent the ways that we as adults and we as a society are failing them. But on the positive side, they are all stories on the resilience of the human spirit and the possibilities and promise that this generation holds. Over 3 days, most of these delegates really start to challenge their stereotypes and prejudices based on race, ethnicity, and gender. They connect with people they’d never talk to otherwise, and go outside of their comfort zones. They reflect upon and cherish this experience for the rest of their lives! Young people are not apathetic, they are smart, they are passionate, and they need our support. The problems we see with youth are just reflections of our own shortcomings, and it’s something we can fix by taking a little time to serve as mentors and having deeper, more open conversations with each other.
I wish more people supported this program so it could reach even more Nevadans, but for now I’ll give what I can and wait for the next camp to come.
Howard Watts III
Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada