In a time when youth and teens are ordinarily plugged into technology and have little peer interaction beyond their home communities, the weekend of December 11th to the 13th proved to be out of the ordinary for forty-two New England teens. Each year, in early December, teens from various communities are invited to participate in Teen Wide World at YMCA Camp Woodstock, a weekend funded entirely by donation dollars from Camps Annual Campaign. The weekend is designed to promote diversity and inclusion, bringing teens together from various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds within the region. From Friday through Sunday, the teens explore diversity, discuss social problems, and are challenged with various team-building initiatives. The goal of the weekend is to expose teens to a variety of people and backgrounds in a safe setting, and to build character and leadership skills in each participant.
This year, the program celebrates its 14th anniversary. Started in 2001 as part of a YMCA grant, the weekend continues to grow and evolve. This year, teens joined together from Wilson Gray YMCA in Hartford, the Dominican Republic Society of Connecticut, Commonwealth Academy in Springfield, Massachusetts, the CREC Schools in Hartford, and the Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission of Connecticut. Over the course of the weekend, they challenged the stereotypes that are held for each of these communities, and participated in workshops and activities that exemplified the diversity of their world, while at the same time showcasing the similarities everyone shared. “I had a great time over there; we did a lot of activities from which I learned to work with other people. Especially when we talked about racism, it caught my attention and taught me to respect people from all races,” said one participant.
To help add to the impact of the weekend this year, Brother Carl of the Wilson Gray YMCA was able to join the group and provide an inspirational and interactive speech. His speech fueled a fire for these teens to both think and act in a way that is selfless, supportive and accepting of others regardless of their background. Participants strengthened their bonds while executing Ropes Course initiatives, including blindfolded trust exercises and group problem solving activities like the “spider web” or the “maze”. To balance the intensity and weight of the discussions and team-building challenges, the participants also had the opportunity to let their energy out in a drumming circle, led by Dennis Cotton of Power of the Drum. By the end of the weekend, it was clear the group had quickly become a tight-knit unit, with inexplicable connection. “The trip was great,” said one participant; “I am hoping to get more opportunities in the future where I can learn more about other people and myself.”
YMCA Camp Woodstock plans to continue to bring teens together each year, providing opportunities to learn more about other people from a range of communities and backgrounds. With a strong belief in the need for equal access to experiences like this, YMCA Camp Woodstock will continue to host this weekend free of cost to all participants. “It is extremely important that the Y present these opportunities to today’s youth in order to foster an environment and culture that leads to the strengthening of our communities,” says Youth Leadership Director, Will Jones. “The bonds that are formed over the course of the weekend demonstrate the power of this experience. Led by the overarching theme of the Y’s core values of Caring, Honesty, Respect and Responsibility, we are nurturing tomorrow’s leaders to tap into the potential we have when we come together.”
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