How did you first connect with LandPaths? What drew you to it from the start?
I first connected with LandPaths the summer after Ocean Song closed. I had worked at Ocean Song doing Coyote Camp for two summers and was excited to get to work another summer camp in the area. I was excited to be working with an organization committed to stewardship, sense of place, youth education, and diversifying outdoor education. I was really drawn in by the values of LandPaths. I remember being at our first all staff meeting at the farm, getting to know everyone, and feeling inspired by and welcomed by all of the staff.
How did the idea for the Queer Youth and Allies camp come about?
I’ve been an outdoor education for the past decade, as a school garden teacher, with summer camps, and other art and nature programs. I really enjoy small group interactions and mentorship. It was especially sweet when I had a queer or trans youth in my group. I was like, oh this is so magical.
Over time I realized I wanted to work specifically with queer and trans youth in a designated space, not just during general programs, and started thinking about ways this could materialize. I thought about what it would be like to incorporate nature-based projects I already loved leading with more reflective, artistic, and community building activities centered around identity, queerness, and community. I imagined the possibilities of idea of having an all-outdoor program for LGBTQAI2s* youth and allies at the beautifully abundant Bohemia Ecological Preserve.
I reached out to Jamie (Nakama) and Jessica (Holloway) with some ideas in the Fall of 2020. With fire season and the pandemic, it was a little unattainable and we kept it on the backburner. At the end of December, I started to gauge interest in the community. Who would want a program for queer/trans youth? I had enough people that were interested that I reached out to LandPaths. Jamie and Jessica were super supportive from the get-go. It manifested from there.
How is LandPaths responding to community needs and demand with Queer Youth and Allies camp?
Queer and trans youth already had feelings of isolation before the pandemic. A lot of the youth that came to the camp didn’t have any queer or trans peers at their school and were navigating bullying and discrimination on top of all of the other issues youth have to navigate. This camp was a refuge and a way for them to build connections and community. So many of them said that it helped them get through the year and that it changed their quality of life.
The spring camp started right when things were opening up again, which was super supportive for the youth. For a lot of us, it was our first time being in a large group since the pandemic. It felt great to be on such spacious land and to be able to stretch out, breath the fresh air, and spend time together safely. LandPaths helped make all that possible.
What was a typical day of camp like?
There was a great variety of activities each week and also some things that continued throughout the program. We’d start with a morning circle check in where the youth shared a bit about what was up for them that week. We had a roll of tape and permanent marker we’d pass around for everyone to write their name and pronouns on as a name tag. One person had a different name every single time, which was warmly welcomed. Anyone could change their name/pronouns whenever they wanted and the youth could try out new things.
After our morning circle we’d either go on a hiking adventure and do an nature/art activity. We hiked to the wetland, the waterfall, Cypress Ridge and the pond. We built shelters out of fallen trees, played games, made herbal medicine with Samwise Rardion of Self Heal Herbs, practiced fire-by-friction skills by making soapstone beads with Paleotechnics kits, danced with the Fog Beast Dance Company, dyed face masks, explored using film cameras with Em Harger photography, and put on a nature drag show.
At the end of the day, we had a “Stuff Box” where youth could put anonymous questions that Laura (Revilla) and I would look over and choose from for our discussion circles. We would talk about internalized transphobia, internalized homophobia, asexuality, coming out, navigating homophobic family members and peers, mental health, etc. The youth got really deep with each other about the complexity of their feelings. Having that reflective time together was a beautiful aspect of our day.
LandPaths’ mission is to foster a love of the land. Did you see this happening among participants? Did it feel like nature became more accessible and relevant to their lives?
Our second week we started finding the cicada exoskeletons all over the stumps. When the campers arrived the next few weeks, they wanted to find more. There’s remembrance, connection. The yarrow started growing and it bloomed in the last week or two when we were at the pond. Because this camp was over a longer period of time, they were able to see subtle changes in the seasons and the landscape. They’d say, “I love it here! I want to bring my family here.”
Would you say that a sense of belonging in a community of nature and each other bloomed over the camp sessions?
Hands down this group of youth connected with each other more quickly and deeper than any other group of youth I’ve worked with over the last decade. I don’t say that lightly. They really bonded, despite having different personalities and a wide age range. They all clicked and included one another. No one was left out.
How has being part of LandPaths impacted you?
It’s been lovely working with some amazing educators and organizers at LandPaths. The staff community is so strong and dedicated to the mission of the organization that they are able to do so many simultaneous incredible things. LandPaths has really shown me that anything is possible and that we really do have the potential to make positive, life-changing impacts for youth.