It was the summer before I would attend a new school. I was an incoming brace-faced eighth grader, questioning daily why I never felt that I belonged. One morning, my mom eagerly exclaimed to me, “You are going to Youth Resources’ TEENPOWER camp!” I hesitantly packed my bags and attended the three-day, peer-based conference.
I, a clueless thirteen-year-old girl, had no idea how much of an impact a simple, in-town camp entailed. Falling in love, I returned to TEENPOWER year after year and eventually stumbled upon the opportunity to interview to become one of the thirty Youth Staff members. Running up against eighty teenagers, I became a nervous wreck. But I felt a calling: I knew I wanted to return the love I received as a camper. Yes, love. Pure, authentic love. And once I opened my acceptance letter, weeping tears of joy, I knew the calling was now a responsibility.
Serving on Youth Staff has been the best experience of my entire high school career. During the school year, I work with peers from different high schools to put on the annual summer camp. We learn icebreakers and goofy repeat-after-me songs, plan a skit, and practice small group discussions. TEENPOWER, a conference led by upperclassmen, teaches middle school and high school students alike the importance of simply being oneself while staying substance free. TEENPOWER is a place where your number of followers, the color of your skin, and your regretful past decisions do not define you. As a Youth Staffer, I eliminate these stereotypical barriers of fitting in. I go to camp to help spread the word that revealing your weird, wacky self is perfectly okay. I foster deep connections among others. I sit with the isolated kid at lunch and ask him about his favorite type of tree. At TEENPOWER, a joyful, rewarding experience, I am capable of loving and being loved, while teaching others to do the same.
One of the most significant lessons I learned at TEENPOWER is the importance of vulnerability. At the high school camp, we do not hide our problems. We address depression, anxiety, break-ups, and abuse. And the best part? We deeply care for each other, not just at camp but beyond. I continue to receive lifelong friendships and adult mentors each year. I believe TEENPOWER holds much more value than any other ordinary extracurricular activity or camp; it exemplifies the true meaning of family. A permanent family.
Annie David is a senior at Reitz Memorial High School. She has been part of YR for nearly six years and is heavily involved in Teen Advisory Council and TEENPOWER.