Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Camp CommUNITY Reflection - Amy Lou Thurman


Amy Lou Thurman - 1986
Staff multiple years
Teacher at Paradise ISD

My first experience with Camp CommUNITY, formerly Anytown, was just over 20 years ago.  It was the summer before my junior year at C. F. Brewer High School, White Settlement, Texas.  I was the only one attending from my school and had no idea what to expect.  I don’t think I would have believed anyone if they had told me that I was about to experience a life changing week, but that is exactly what happened.

I grew up in a middle class neighborhood and had gone to school with the same people since kindergarten.  The people in my classes were pretty much all alike: Caucasian, middle class, church going kids.  This was pre Oklahoma City Bombing, pre Dessert Storm, pre 9/11 and my world didn’t have much diversity in it. Anytown changed that.

Upon arriving at camp, where the staff was clapping and singing loudly as we pulled in and unloaded the busses, I knew my world was about to change.  You could sense it in the enthusiasm of the people that were there to guide us through the Anytown experience.  These people made us look at the world through bigger, wider, accepting eyes and I am the better person for it.  We spent the first several days of camp exploring who we are, what influenced our thinking and how to make the world more accepting for those who don’t look like, speak like, or worship like we did. The most memorable part of this experience came in the form of the segregation exercise…. I left that camp a changed person no longer willing to only look at the “surface” of a person.  I left that camp knowing that the world was a much bigger place than I had experienced and full of people with valuable experiences and knowledge to share regardless of their race, religion, or social standing.

I am very privileged to have also experienced Anytown as a member of the staff. I considered it a great honor to have been asked back as a counselor, as well as an adult advisor.  I think the importance of this experience for young people has increased tremendously in our post 9/11 world.  These students are living in a time where we are almost expected to be quick to “judge” people based on their background and appearance.  In fact, it almost became patriotic to do that in the first few years after the attacks on the United States.

I feel the responsibility as an adult advisor to guide the students through the experience and hopefully have them experience their own “ah-ha” moments.  There is great joy when you are 2-3 days into camp and you see 2 delegates from totally opposite worlds sit down next to each other at a meal and strike up a conversation and genuinely interact with and get to know the other person. The goal of Camp CommUNITY is for those students to take that experience back to their “real world” and duplicate it.  To step outside their comfort zone and open their world to new people.

Camp CommUNITY is carefully planned so that participants examine their world: looking at their own beliefs, examining their family unit, their friends, and the world beyond. These young people often leave camp having learned real life lessons that some adults may never experience.  There is an irony in that most participants come to camp and say they don’t know what to expect and when they leave they don’t know how to put the experience into words.  It is a moment in their life that changes them on the inside and it is our hope that the world sees the changes on the outside.

If I had to compare experiences between being a participant, counselor and advisor, I would have to say that I cherish being an advisor most of all.  As a delegate, you experience and receive this gift of awareness and knowledge and you walk away with a change of heart.  As an advisor, you are blessed with the opportunity to share and give the gift which can impact the world we live in…

Honor and privilege are two of the feelings that come each year when I am invited back to be a part of Camp CommUNITY.  This is an amazing experience and one that needs to be shared with the leaders of tomorrow.  These young people are going to be the ones running the world when we are in the twilight of our lives, and I am comforted knowing that they have had this experience to shape and guide them.  Camp CommUNITY embraces the idea of “paying it forward” and the experience is certainly worthy of the time and effort of all involved to keep it going.



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