Contributing Author: Katelyn Owens (with special thanks to Aylissa and Phoenix for sharing their experiences)
Published on September 1, 2016
On August 24, 2016, Triangle Community Center sent its first ever group of at-risk and homeless LGBTQ young adults to Arts in the Woods, an arts-based summer camp at Easton Mountain (a year-round LGBTQ retreat center).
At its most basic level, this camp is a safe space, with comfortable housing, food, and community for LGBTQ people who are not guaranteed these simple things in their everyday lives. This camp offers so much more than just a safe getaway, though. Arts in the Woods is designed to empower individuals through artistic inspiration, and the theme of the camp this year – it’s guiding principle – was Thrive.
LGBTQ at-risk and homeless youth spend much of their time and energy making ends meet, finding food at local food banks half an hour’s walk away (or more) from their jobs, and searching for a bed, couch, or floor to sleep on. They are rarely afforded an opportunity to thrive in their everyday lives, but given a mere five days at camp, these young adults prove to themselves and others that they are talented, capable, and relentlessly resilient.
Here are the testimonies of just two of TCC’s eight 2016 campers:
My name is Phoenix and getting the chance to be at Arts in the Woods this past week changed my life. I had the opportunity to meet amazing people that have enriched my life more than I ever thought possible. I got the rare opportunity to discover my own talents at a deep level and explore them in a safe environment where I was encouraged to be who I truly am.
I was told what to expect from Arts in the Woods before we went, but, while I was already excited, nothing could have prepared me for what I found there.
I met others in my community - a community that had been absent from my life - that have found there way into my heart. When I was growing up I never once had the chance to express myself fully, for fear of being taunted, insulted, or attacked, but Arts in the Woods was the community that I had always dreamed of, a community that opened there arms to me and showed me how to thrive.
To me, thriving means finding a safe haven filled with love, respect and happiness. Most importantly, thriving means being who you innately are and being loved for it.
My name is Aylissa, and, to me, the word ‘thrive’ means to persevere, endure hardship, and rise above to be resilient regardless of your environment or experiences.
To thrive is to achieve the ability to shine ahead in a world of dark intentions, judgment, and stereotypes.
Arts in the Woods gave me an opportunity to reconnect with and access the leader within myself. It was truly an honor to be around such inspiring talent. Music, videography, dance, and visual arts were available for us to explore- things I never have time or space to explore.
I attended camp as a youth leader and seeing the impact that camp made on the youth was amazing to me. I didn’t understand how much a hug or a warm smile could impact someone’s life.
Though we came from different places in our lives, it was a refreshing and much-needed trip for us all. So many friendships were made, bonds struck, tears shut, and I personally gained a whole, loving community and a deeper understanding of the community of which I am an important part.
On the final night, youth and staff were asked one question: What can you let go of that holds you back from thriving?
Everyone wrote their answer down on a piece of paper, joined together at a huge bonfire, and threw their answers into the flames. Without a doubt, Arts in the Woods is an escape from the necessary struggles of survival for LGBTQ youth in the Northeast, but it is also meant to heal, empower, and send youth home with a greater sense of exactly how valuable their presence, creativity, and strength is to the world and to our LGBTQ community at large.
We are all on a path to find ourselves. So what can you let go of that holds you back from thriving?