YEA: Empowerment Camp

OrchardThere have not been many times if my life that I have wished I was 13 again, but this is one of those times.  After hearing about the empowerment camp that is being held in the Santa Cruz mountains, I felt a growing envy towards the lucky kids that were going to participate. This camp itself is in a beautiful setting; five days in the gorgeous Santa Cruz mountains is enough to make me feel a bit of longing. Add to that the resumes of the staff, the goals of the program, the creativity of YEA and you might understand my sudden yearning for adolescence again.

During August 17-21, the Ben Lomond Quaker Center of the Santa Cruz mountains will be home to youth from age 11 to 15 for a week of leadership skills training.  While most of the young people will be from the San Francisco Bay Area of northern California, kids from all parts of the country are welcome to participate.  Each young person will learn how to become active in leadership, learning how to pursue social justice issues in a positive way, and to help prepare them to be the leaders of tomorrow.

About the camp

YEA stands for Youth Empowerment Action.  Some of the associated activities include The Power Shuffle (looking at power and oppression),  Go MAD (Make a Difference), The Lives of our Dreams (art, poetry, song, dance, expression used to inspire), CIA (Compassion into Action), as well as plenty of free time, basketball, frisbee and open mic.  Learning how to start a club, write letters to the editor, and even media training will be part of the education built into the program. Helping kids learn about sustainable living, how our purchases impact the globe, and how to live without waste and overconsumption are topics that will be convered.  There will be a sharing of individual passions for issues so each young person will expand their own horizons as they understand what motivates others.  They will develop a network that will help support them when they return home.

Camp will help participants become confident, inspired and organized.  They will gain training in non-violent communication and join into a community of future leaders.  They will have support to overcome barriers, forge new relationships, and develop a new vision of what is possible in their own lives.  Mentoring will continue beyond camp, as the young people will have camp staff follow up with them individually to help promote their continued growth once camp is over, assist them in connecting to appropriate leaders in their community and offer encouragement as they move towards their goals.

The camp will offer primarily local, organic vegan cuisine which is in keeping with working towards a sustainable and improved future.  The staff to camper ratio is only 1:3, allowing lots of close, individual attention. The cost of the five day camp is $750. For more information, go to their website. You may contact them at (415) 449-1915 or email at

Camp Staff

Camp staff include several dynamic people.  Founder and Camp Director Nora Kramer has been working with youth since 2001, supporting several peace and justice issues, working in an after school program, and helping empower kids to make a difference in the world.  She became vegan during an environmental science class in college, after reading John Robbins’ Diet for a New Americaand realizing the power of food choices. She is passionate about animal rights and helping empower others. Nora is a credentialed teacher and has completed the American Camp Association’s Basic Camp Director Course. She has had prior experience as a Camp Director, and has been affiliated with five different camps, giving her knowledge of best practices and solid leadership.

Serge Bakalian is a filmmaker, writer and theater manager from the San Francisco area.  He has worked for several NGOs and has been a founding member of other groups such as the Green Alliance.  He has worked passionately to defend the biodiversity of the global food supply, especially in the Middle East and Latin America.  He has earned a B.S in Chemistry and a B.S. and M.S. in International Relations.

Erin Fields has worked with social justice issues such as AIDs, North Korean political prisoners, and fair traded goods as well as the empowerment of youth.  She is working on her M.A. in Gender, Ecology and Society and has worked as a teacher, support counselor, teaching assistant, tutor and nanny.

Luke Janes has trained in nonviolent communication, co-counseling, restorative justice and is a certified Wilderness First Responder.  He is a credentialed math and science teacher and has a Masters Degree in Education.  He has also worked at several summer camps.

Sharon Smith is Program Director for the New Leaders Initiative and Brower Youth Awards at Earth Island Institute, to honor young environmentalists for their activism and achievements.  Sharon has experience in leading young people on wilderness treks and bicycling tours.  She completed a year fellowship with Green Corps, where she learned extensively about environmental organizing.

Laura Carver has been active since her own youth, supporting human and animal rights.  She majored in environmental studies and natural resources and has worked at camps for the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club and now YEA.  She worked organizing students IPIRG), and on consumer advocacy and environmental issues. She has also been involved with Farm Sanctuary, ASPCA and with Nathan Winograd, leader of the no-kill shelter movement. She is a science teacher in middle and high school and blogs about her family’s simple style of living.

Leanne Alaman was head art instructor at UC Berkeley’s Explorer Camp, mentored foster youth at the Fred Finch Youth Center, facilitated art classes with homeless youth at Drawbridge Expressive Arts, and is working on her MA in Integrative EcoSocial Design.  She is focusing on revolutionizing education to improve graduation rates and develop compassionate world citizens.

Laine Forman is an artist from San Francisco who is also an educator. She has worked with at-risk youth, prison inmates, immigrants and is currently a preschool teacher working on her masters degree in Drama Therapy.  She has experience with theater companies including Bread and Pupper and is cofounder of theWild Goat Theater project and has had training in Theater of the Opressed.

The diversity of staff experience and the extensive educational credentials are sure to give the lucky campsters a memorable and meaningful experience. If I were a few decades younger, you can bet I would be there, too.