Looking for a summer camp that gives kids the knowledge, motivation, confidence and skills they need to make a positive difference in the world? And that serves vegan food? Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will teach kids to be leaders, activists, compassionate citizens, and solutionaries. Read on to learn more about the inspiring, life-changing YEA camp... Guest Post by Nora Kramer, Executive Director of Youth Empowered Action Camp (YEA)
Many veg kids and their parents are accustomed to being one of a small minority not wanting to eat hot dogs, hamburgers, and other typical meat-based meals at school or camp, and perhaps tolerating some ignorant remarks from others, maybe about the food chain or a desert island.
But what about a summer camp that serves all vegan food, and has plenty of other campers and staff who also care about animals, the planet, and good health? Or a camp that is all about helping youth get more involved in community service, social justice, and activism for causes they care about? That is Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp
, a week-long overnight camp with locations in northern California, Oregon, and Massachusetts.
YEA Camp, which is prepping for its fifth summer of programs for youth 12-17, is first and foremost a leadership program for young people who want to make a difference in the world. YEA's purpose is to support youth in getting active on an issue they care about once camp is over. The curriculum -- designed to build campers' knowledge, skills, confidence, and community support -- is engaging and fun, tapping into and expanding campers' passions and interests while affirming their power to make an impact on social issues they care about. Campers choose issues such as factory farming, school bullying, environmental protection, gay marriage, and more. They learn skills like how to start a school club, fundraise, and use art and social media for social change.
Alumni campers have done so many inspiring things after camp, it's hard to keep track or be surprised anymore. From launching school clubs, getting more vegan options in the school cafeteria, initiating school-wide anti-bullying programs, ending dissection in school biology classes, leading neighborhood clean-ups, holding fundraisers, and volunteering or interning with different nonprofit organizations, YEA Campers go home and make a difference on issues they care about for years to come.
While all of YEA Camp's food is vegan, being vegetarian or vegan is certainly not a requirement to attend, and in fact many campers have never given any more thought to going veg than the average teen. The vegan food is not the point of the camp -- changing the world is. YEA Camp seeks to bring our actions into alignment with our values and commitment to peace, compassion, equity, sustainability, and social justice. YEA Camp tries to model "being the change we wish to see in the world," as Gandhi said. Serving meat or dairy would undermine everything we are standing for.
At the beginning of camp, many non-veg campers are nervous about the food, while other campers who are vegan or vegetarian are beyond thrilled to be able to eat everything, and to not have to ask questions or eat the "alternative" or "special" meal at the side table, like at other camps. In the end, though, everyone is beyond impressed at the deliciousness of vegan cuisine, with kid-friendly meals such as French toast and pancakes for breakfast, mac n' cheeze and burritos for lunch, pizza with Daiya and veggie sushi for dinner, and chocolate chip cookies and brownies for dessert. Don't worry, there's also plenty of veggies and salads and gluten- and soy-free and other options too!
YEA Camp is an opportunity for youth to meet like-minded peers and adults, to pursue a cause that really matters to them, to get encouragement and training on how to make a difference in ways that feel right for them, and to have what many campers describe as a life-changing and unforgettable experience. And to eat amazing vegan food for a week while having a great time. Not a bad way to answer the question "How did you spend your summer vacation?"
YEA Camp 2013 will be held: California: July 14-21Oregon: July 27-August 3Massachusetts: August 10-17YEA Camp helps to make arrangements for youth flying in from out of the area. To learn more about YEA Camp, take a look at this two-minute video or visit www.yeacamp.org.
Melissa Gates, Director of Programs at Catskill Animal Sanctuary shares her recent experience teaching kids, and tells us about the wonderful Camp Kindness vegan summer camp! It's a one-week long day camp run by trained humane educators that gives kids the opportunity to interact with farm animals, while inspiring them to make kind, compassionate choices for all. Check out this one-of-a-kind camp, and register your kids-- they will love it!
Guest Post by Melissa Gates, Director of Programs at Catskill Animal Sanctuary
Ten Girl Scouts, ranging in age from nine to eleven years old, playfully traipsed after me in their sparkling new designer galoshes as I led them from Catskill Animal Sanctuary’s Welcome Hut around into the sloping potbellied pig field for their Volunteer Day.
“Are we going to scoop…pooooop?” asked one girl, her voice rising upward like a slide whistle accompanied by a face contorted into unspeakable crescendos.
“It would be very nice of us,” said I, raising a pitchfork to my side and motioning for the girls to circle around, “as these little loves depend upon CAS to provide them with proper affection, food, water and shelter. Part of that entails scooping up their poop every day.”
The potbellied pigs eyed the group of girls, snouts to the air and tails wagging, perhaps wondering if the day would bring treats or belly rubs or even better…both. This porcine crew knows the group volunteer gig pretty well. The shy pigs wander off to private corners, where they know we will respect their privacy. Suspicious pigs stand at a distance, smelling and rooting and planning and waiting. The extroverts wander over and introduce themselves with little nudges of their wet, sensitive noses against willing hands, legs and giggles. Shy Girl, who is, as her name implies, normally a quite timid resident at CAS, has days where she will waddle over to check out groups. Chopper, who eagerly falls over sideways at the mere suggestion of a hand heading toward his belly, can have shy days, too. Pigs, just like people and all other animals, have their moods. Today wasn’t one of those days for our friendly guy, Ozzie. He sauntered over, tail flailing a mile a minute with a clear look of warmth upon his face as his nose wiggled and pointed, smelling from girl to girl, likely anticipating his healthy dose of love and affection for the day, but not before…
One pointed finger became two then five then ten until a pitchy horror of shrieking girl chorus erupted,“EeeEEEEeeeeEEEw! He’s pooping NOW!”
At times like these, teaching moments choose us; those of us brave enough not to shy away from the challenge of poop discussions with little girls sporting designer galoshes in pink and yellow polka dots know what we must do. For those of us who make the conscious decision not to dilute the poop topic but rather to embrace the opportunity for heightened compassion, these moments are precious...even when faced with little girl squeals.
“Everybody poops, right?” I asked, looking around from surprised to disgusted to embarrassed faces. “This is Ozzie. He and other pigs are actually quite courteous when they go to the bathroom,” I continued. “When given the amount of space they need, pigs use one area for their bathroom breaks, another area for eating and yet another area for sleeping! What do you think would happen if our pig friends didn’t poop?”
“We wouldn’t have to pick it up!” exclaimed one child, affirming my theory that there really is at least one silly kid in every group.
“Hmmm. True,” I answered.“But how do you feel when you don’t go to the bathroom when you need to go?”
“Bad. My tummy aches and I feel bad if I hold it too long,” said another.
“Right; and we wouldn’t want our pig friends to feel that way, would we?” All the girls’ heads nodded no, emphatically. “Plus, what can most people do that pigs and other animals can’t, to our knowledge?”
“Excuse themselves to go to the bathroom!” hollered one girl, hand waving over her head.
“That is a very astute point.” I replied. “There is something else humans can do that not many other animals can. What do you think that might be?” Hands shot up. I lifted a brow and extended an inviting hand to one girl who looked as though she might burst if she kept her answer in any longer.
“Ask their moms to drive cars to other bathrooms!” she sang out. Kids come out with the darndest things.
“Also a very good point,” I said. “So when you decide to excuse yourself or when you decideto ask your mom for help, rather than going to the bathroom on the floor, what is it you’re doing?”
“Deciding!” came a shout from one girl, who had really listened as I hung on the word decide.
“Exactly!” I encouraged,“Humans have the gift of intellect, which helps us make good decisions and come to correct conclusions about what is true or real and about how to solve problems. Other animals are smart and can learn human words and signs, and are very often effective at initiating communication and interaction with people. Animals have family units and friends; they think, feel love, suffer pain, and communicate with one another the same as we do...but in their own languages. They do not have the same level of advanced intellect that humans have, though, so in a human-powered world, this often puts animals in danger of being hurt, like if they were left out in fields full of their own poop, which would distress them and could also make them physically sick. This is one of the many kind ways in which people can take care of animals. We pick up their poop in the same way that we take care of our baby brothers’ and sisters’ poop when we help change their diapers.”
“Hey, why don’t pigs wear diapers?” asked the one quota-filling silly girl, with a practiced look of sincerity. I walked right into that one.
The girls and I talked a little more about what it means to allow animals the dignity of their nature, to allow pigs to poop in their latrine area, to allow chickens to flap their wings, to allow cows to live free from milk machines, to allow the planet to live free from pollution, and to allow people the right to live free from wrongful discrimination.
It wasn’t long before the girls were ambitiously scooping poop and satisfying Ozzie’s loving need for affection. They understood the good they were doing to help our pig friends, and with this newfound understanding and context of the help they were providing, the girls were happy to open their hearts to a stinky but necessary chore in order to lend a hand. The fires of compassion grew stronger in the girls’ hearts that day as their perspectives and experiences widened to include animals.
I got to thinking, this really is the foundation for Catskill Animal Sanctuary’s Camp Kindness program, our vegan summer day camp for kids. At Camp Kindness, we offer kids opportunities for deciding to live with greater compassion. We provide facts about the impacts of animal-based agriculture on animals, people and the planet and we empower kids to think critically about
this wonderful world we share. Telling a child that he or she should be kind to animals is a nice start; teaching kids that they each have the power to lead lives based upon deciding to be nice to animals is a world-changing paradigm shifter.
At Camp Kindness, trained Humane Educators work closely with the small camp groups to empower each child to think freely, carefully and independently, and to arrive at their own conclusions and truths, as guided by the spirit of compassion for all.
The age-appropriate lesson plans are mapped out well in advance of the four one-week long camp sessions, but each is molded like clay as it unfolds to meet the shifting needs of the individual kids and to positively reflect the group dynamic in order to bring out the best in each child.
Kids are encouraged to think critically about food production issues, animal rights, the environment and their own health at Camp Kindness. One-on-one interaction with our animal friends is a key aspect of camp, enabling kids to learn about animal behavior and personalities as well as animal care.
Kids leave camp understanding that every animal is a unique individual, which helps those who do not otherwise have an opportunity to mingle with traditionally farmed animals. Everyone leaves feeling supported and knowing that they are not alone; that feeling compassion for animals is indeed a wonderful and inspiring thing.
At Camp Kindness, kids are presented with facts and asked to think creatively and compassionately, and they leave with plenty of tools from which to choose, from vegan cooking skills and recipes to journaling for expressing feelings to growing their own food and gaining experience with animals and getting to know the personalities of a few critters. Camp Kindness helps to reinforce what compassionate parents teach their children every day; that all animals are thinking, breathing, feeling beings worthy of our love and respect; that we may each positively impact the world by deciding to make compassionate choices; that being kind to one another, to animals and to the planet feels good!
I left CAS at the end of this Girl Scout Volunteer Day feeling a strong sense of hope for the future and really looking forward to this year’s Camp Kindness sessions. If we can encourage little girls in glittering galoshes to set aside their dislike of poop in order to lend a hand to pigs in need, we can do just about anything, including making the world a more compassionate place...one child at a time.
To learn more about Camp Kindness or register your child for a session, click here:
To learn more about other CAS programming this season, including the weekend-long Vegan Parenting Workshop in July, click here.
Melissa Gates has directed two statewide animal rights organizations and is currently serving as the Director of Programs at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties, New York. She is a longtime vegan and community organizer for animals, people, and the planet, with nearly two decades of experience in the field. When not engrossed in her work, Melissa can often be seen out & about advocating for justice, hiking, exploring New York's live music scene or snuggling up by her fireplace with some great jazz, a good book & feline friends Eden-Shade, Mama Shed, Sumo Monster, Cito Mosquito Fernandez Jones & Levon Whitey Gates.
It's usually the parents who are writing blogs about raising vegetarian/vegan kids, so it's nice once in a while to flip the tables and hear directly from the young people themselves. I had the pleasure of interviewing Owen Ford-- a kind, smart, courageous, passionate teenage-girl who is making a difference for animals. Her parents should be very proud! Here are some of her thoughts on what it's like to be a vegan teenager.
Interview with Owen Ford, a vegan teenage-girl:
How old are you?
What age did you become vegan, and why?
I’ve been a vegetarian since second grade, when I began to get grossed out by meat. At that time, my Mom was a pescatarian, and while my Dad ate meat, both were very supportive. Then, when I was thirteen (almost fourteen), I learned about veganism. I had heard of it before but never knew much about it. After watching a DVD about food (I think it was one of Dr. McDougall’s), I went vegan overnight. The diet and lifestyle just made total sense to me, an animal lover and nature enthusiast since birth.
How did your parents react when you told them? How did your friends react?
My parents were super supportive. My friends had a lot of questions, and while they might not agree with it, they’re also supportive. I often make vegan desserts for them which helps a lot!
Are there other vegetarians and vegans in your school?
I’ve actually been homeschooled since 7th grade, but when I was in public school, I was teased for not eating meat. However, all of the teens I’ve met since then have been kind and curious about my diet, and I know many vegans and vegetarians.
How veg-friendly is your community (do restaurants and grocery stores offer veg products)?
The small town I live in is not even close to veg*n-friendly, but a nearby larger city is! They have restaurants with vegan options, and one even has a vegan and vegetarian buffet on Saturday nights. Many grocery stores have organic, gluten free, and veg*n sections, too.
Do you have any favorite vegan beauty products?
Yes! I love Eco Lips’ Bee Free Vegan Lip Balm and Nature’s Gate products.
What vegan issue is most important to you (i.e. fur, food, animal testing, etc.)?
All of them! I really care about animal welfare and animal rights. I’ve been told I don’t support animal rights since I have pets, but I think that’s false. I just believe that every creature has a right to be treated decently no matter what species, breed, age, color, or gender it is. Plain and simple.
Have you ever visited a Farm Sanctuary, if so which one?
I have not, but I would really like to!
Have you read any vegan books?
I’ve read Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World, Vegan with a Vengeance, and many other vegan cookbooks. I’d really love to read more, though!
What do you think the future of the vegan movement is…?
I think it’s just going to keep progressing until we’re no longer the minority! I feel like the more people hear about it and the more people learn about it, the sooner it’ll be acceptable and normal and encouraged!
Can you give a few examples of some of the food you eat?
I eat a TON of fresh fruit! We make a lot of quinoa, bean, and vegetable salads, too. I love nachos, pizza, cookies, and pb&j sandwiches! I eat a pretty good balance of healthy vegan food and “junk” vegan food. My favorite dish right now is lasagna made of lasagna noodles, polenta, eggplant, portabellas, spinach, garlic, onions, tomato sauce, and Chreese sauce! We’re still perfecting the recipe for out tastes, but it’s delicious! We used this recipe here: http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2007/02/polenta-lasagna-with-portabellas-and.html
What’s your favorite food?
Strawberries dipped in chocolate! Or Mexican food.
If you were giving a presentation on veganism to other teens, what is something important that you would say, or want them to know?
I would tell other teens that it’s not un-cool or lame to be a vegan, that it’s actually REALLY cool to stand up for what you believe in and to help others do the same!
Do you have an animal-advocate/vegan icon, or someone you look up to?
For inspiration Nathan Winograd for sure! I'm all for a No Kill Nation!
Do you currently, or have you ever done any animal activism (protests, letter writing, leafleting, etc)?
Yes, I have! I leafleted once for Mercy For Animals and I've raised money for World Wildlife Fund and the Forever Home Feline Ranch. I also foster kittens and volunteer for multiple rescues.
What would you say to vegetarians who haven't yet made the switch to veganism?
I would tell them that vegetarianism is an amazing choice, and veganism is even better! I would help them learn about the dairy and egg industries' cruel practices, the delicious vegan food, and the positive impact their choice would make.
What is the hardest part about being a vegan teen?
It’s really hard to not be able to order whatever I want off of a menu, and it can be hard to be around people who don’t support or understand your diet.
What is the best thing about being a vegan?
Everything! The food, the health, the compassion. I love being part of something positive!
What are your summer plans?
I'm going to be staying with my best friend and her family for three months this summer along with going to Youth Empowered Action Camp!Owen and her Mom...
Owen's companion animals... Bella Luna and Sarah
....and some of the kittens she's fostered.
A BIG thank you to Owen for sharing her perspective with us. She is not only an inspiration to others her age, but also a huge inspiration to the adults out there who are raising compassionate, vegetarian/vegan kids. You are the future!