Help the Helpers: Brave Trails Camp for LGBTQ Youth!

“Brave Trails is a new, nonprofit, leadership-focused summer camp for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning (all across the spectrum) youth, ages 12-20.”

That’s Kayla Ryan, Programs Director for Brave Trails! Over a bowl of beet hummus, she and her partners, Jessica Weissbuch (Executive Director) and Matt Marr (Communications Director), had lots to say about their work building a better world. They are Helpers!

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(Clockwise from left: Jessica, Matt, Kayla, Me)

As the only child of a single mother, Kayla found summer camp very empowering! “It was the first time I got to make decisions on my own, at 8 years old. Oh, I can choose what I want to eat and choose the activities I want to do? And I can go perform and do arts and crafts?”

For Matt, who grew up in Oklahoma, where “everybody was sports, sports, sports,” the chance to attend an art camp totally revolutionized his world! His school had no art or music program, and for someone starved for artistic expression, his experience at an art camp felt “like when you drink a glass of sweet iced tea on a hot, Oklahoma summer day. You just go ‘Ahh…’ because it was this restful ‘People are like me’ [feeling].”

“Me and the other camp directors; we all just love camp,” says Matt. “And we see the importance of camp. It opens up your perspective. It opens up your life. It empowers you. No matter what camp you go to.”

All three of these Helpers have a single mission. As Jessica puts it, “I want to give back the support that I got as a kid, because I saw that a lot of my friends did not have that support from their family and how hard and damaging that can be.”

LGBTQ youth face unique challenges compared to other kids. While there have been great civil rights gains in the last decade, there’s still a long way to go, culturally. For example, developing kids need leadership to model healthy behavior and give encouragement. However, LGBTQ-focused leadership is noticeably absent from many mainstream leadership camps, such as the Boy Scouts of America, which actively prohibits it!

“Really the only spaces that most people know as a young LGBT person,” says Kayla, “are clubs and bars and pride festivals, which have their purpose and which are great in some ways, but where are those positive spaces that focus on things that aren’t necessarily bars or clubs or partying?”

The Brave Trails Helpers aim to change that. In addition to bringing new campers to Brave Trails, Matt and Jessica, who both have masters degrees in clinical psychology, have been reaching out to other camps to consult leaders who have questions about their own LGBTQ campers and staff! Kayla, who is studying nonprofit management at Antioch University, rounds out the skill sets!

“It’s showing, “says Matt, “that people are going out into the work force or college, and they don’t know how to deal with other people because they’re used to just doing Instagram on their phone. So that’s where we at our camp can build the 21st century skills of what it really means to be a leader and a successful person.”

Like with any camp, the Helpers at Brave Trails have their challenges! The camp opens for the first time in the summer of 2015 and needs both qualified volunteer staff willing to take a week off work in July and, of course, funding for services and scholarships.

“When you apply for grants,” says Jessica, “they want you to prove it, and how can you prove it if you’ve never done it before? Because we’re just starting out. That’s the Catch-22 we’re running into.”

But after being open a single month, Brave Trails has already received applications from four campers and eight prospective staff members across the country. One applicant is autistic, which speaks to the level of diversity that the Helpers at Brave Trails really want to attract! That also means Brave Trails is not only open to members of the LGBTQ community but also to allies of all backgrounds and interests!

“It’s such a unique setting,” says Kayla, “and such a unique set of values that happen over this time when kids are away from home and away from technology and focused on something that they’re passionate about. The growth that happens is exponential.”

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To help the helpers at Brave Trails as a volunteer, donor, or even a camper, visit the Brave Trails website at www.bravetrails.org. You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! Camp starts July 26th and will be taking applicants through June, so take your chance to help build a better world!

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