From July 23rd to the 29th, the annual weeklong “Sons and Brothers Summer Camp” took place. Over 130 young men rode buses to Portola, California for the retreat. The Sons and Brothers Summer Camp is a youth gathering, high up in the mountains, that aims to help youth change for the better while teaching them the value of helping their communities.

After arriving in Portola, the campers were assigned cabins at the Sierra Nevada Journeys Grizzly Creek Ranch. Each cabin had around 12 beds which were almost entirely were filled with camp participants. After check-in, campers were called into the main lodge to go over some rules and housekeeping and to discuss the many activities that would occur throughout the week.

Each day at camp had a “theme” and Monday’s was on “beloved community”. At around 10:00 AM, the elders and adult allies stood in front of everyone to speak about their how they make their communities better and how the youth could do the same. Then, campers split up into “trails” which is a team of about 12 people who must go through a certain amount of courses to built up trust and teamwork together. Campers finished off the day with activities spread around the park until 10:00 PM.

On Tuesday morning, campers went to their sessions to discuss “Healing and Wholeness.” Two adult allies shared very emotional stories about their children and their life experiences and how they found themselves despite the hardships they’ve gone through. After that, campers experienced even more sophisticated trust exercises before ending the day with activities such as spray painting and hip hop music.

Wednesday was the longest day of camp and featured the topic ”repairing and structural harm”. This went into detail about how when a person thinks they are doing the right thing, but they might be damaging something or someone else. The campers trust exercises got much harder that afternoon. The youth had to help their peers across a tiny rope by guiding them all the way across. If the youth groups could trust in each other during in this activity, they were able to move on to the next course.

That day ended with a very emotional fire circle. For many of the youth, these fire circles were the highlight of entire trip. Participants got a tiny string to tie a knot for a every problem they wanted to leave behind. Once they told their story about what their knots represents, they placed it into the fire symbolizing that those problems have been left behind.

“Unity in the community is fundamentally based on relationships,” said Baba Greg Hodge, an adult ally at the retreat. “You have to get know the people in your community – their interests, problems as well as what their assets are.”

On Thursday, the youth discussed “community voice and power.” The young people had to explore scenarios that could actually happen and learn about individual and collective strategies through one another. Afterwards the youth went to their trail groups to do obstacle courses where each team had to use the trust they had built up to support one another to climb up a 50 feet tower.

The last day of camp was the most eventful day of the whole week. The topic of the day was “commitments and accountability”. Young people had the opportunity to explore practices, skills and tools for creating beloved communities.

After that was the final stage of the trail groups. The youth had to jump off a plank 50 feet high and trust in their teammates to be safe while jumping off the plank. This activity was called the “Leap Of Faith.” While many did not choose to do the jump, this writer decided to do it. As a person who is extremely afraid of heights, I would think that I would be the least likely to do it. But I did it and I had the trust I developed with my teammates built in me.

As a reporter, it was a very exciting experience to be able to cover this camp and to tell anyone who is reading this about it. But as youth, this camp is so far one of the highlights of my life.

For more information about Sons and Brothers and their efforts; please  click here.