Over the weekend of March 28-29, Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA) took eight youth on a trip to the Sierra Friend Center, and visited the Woolman School. The Woolman School is a nonprofit educational community/Quaker high school that weaves together spirituality, peace, sustainability, and social action. Our youth engaged in hiking among the Sierra Nevada Foothills, art-making/friendship building activities, and community meals. The trip encouraged social and self-growth, exploration, and hope; important themes from interviews with our YSA youth.
The first thing they did after arriving was eat lunch. Our youth quickly noted Woolman’s campus tradition of eating vegan and vegetarian. One youth said;
“I’m a severe meat eater, so I was a little worried. I didn’t know how to go without meat for two days. If you spoke to me two weeks ago, all I could talk about was how the pesto was bomb but they had great lunch.”
The Woolman students made fresh pesto from their garden. Part of their curriculum is to learn organic gardening, cooking and permaculture. Their wholesome lunch taught our youth about the value, taste, and experience of locally, farmed food.
In general, the meals helped our youth to become mindful of differences in their food culture: “All the food was really good, but I don’t know if I could live that lifestyle… It does seem like it would be good in a way.” It got them to consider that a vegetarian lifestyle could be good and also empathize with another way of living. Many youth had never considered that healthy food could also taste good: “the food was really good and healthy!”
After lunch, the Woolman students and YSA youth split into two groups. One went on a scavenger hunt while the other made dream catchers.
“In my group, we did art with some of the other Woolman kids. We made dream catchers. I kind of messed mine up, but we made dream catchers, and a lot of people enjoyed that. It was kind of a chill activity. Afterwards, with some other Woolman kids, we went on a scavenger hunt. I got to learn a lot about how they live, and what they do for fun up there.”
Around the grounds, the youth could slack line, pick up a game of soccer, play music, throw a Frisbee, swim, or hoola hoop together. Our youth really enjoyed all the space available for pick up activities. Space they did not necessarily have available in their daily life. One youth said, “The tight rope walking was new. It was kind of hard shaking.” Having some structure and freedom encouraged the youth to be explorative. “Making dream catchers was pretty fun. I had never done it. I like learning new stuff, and had never done it before.“ Whether it was messing up a new activity, like dream catchers, or trying something new, the youth enjoyed exploring.
The shared activities helped our youth and the Woolman students to connect and break down preconceived notions about each other.
“We had some good conversation with the people up there. Everyone was really intelligent. They could hold a conversation. I was kind of worried, and wasn’t sure what they did for internet access up there, but they have wifi. They weren’t totally disconnected. A lot of their favorite shows were my favorite shows. We bonded over Supernatural and Doctor Who.”
The youth realized they had a lot in common, such as following the same television shows. Even though the Woolman students were out in nature, they had technology. It made our youth realize they could connect with nature and still keep aspects of their urban life. The common theme shared was that activities build appreciation for companionship and de-glorify the idea of always needing technology.
In the evening, the crew walked to a nearby lake for a BBQ. On the unpaved paths, the YSA youth remarked how undisturbed the land was. One also found the hike quite tiring. Many noted the access to more physical activity. Whether it was the unexpected walking from place to place or choosing to go swimming, our youth took pride saying “my calves were burning!”
At the BBQ site, only the YSA youth chose to swim.
“We went to the pond, and I got in the water. After I got out, it was freezing. It was really cold. (…)I like swimming so I wanted to get in the lake. It was really cold. (My friend) didn’t want to get in. They were making fun of him, because he didn’t want to get in. The bbq was good.”
Even though the water was freezing, the youth loved swimming, and got each other to participate. They did not want to miss out on the moment. Getting each other to conquer their fear of discomfort helped the group to trust living in the moment.
Sitting around the campfire, the youth ate, talked, and took advantage of their surroundings.
“My favorite part was when we made the campfire. The night was really beautiful. The stars and the moon. It was really good. Everyone was singing songs.”
Music really helped the youth feel at home. One youth said, I play guitar, but didn’t bring my own; the others had one, and let me play; “I enjoyed playing guitar with some folks.”
It was important for the youth to share interests and feel at ease, because the campfire made our youth feel conscious of things they had and hadn’t done in nature.
“We made s’mores and chilled, looked up at the stars and enjoyed one another’s company. A lot of the stuff I have done before. I have done pretty much everything they’ve done. It’s just weird going from the city to a rural area. A lot of the stuff they did I used to do camping in AZ.”
Some of our youth have been quite mobile. It is not easy moving a lot, but they found themselves doing familiar things, but with more enthusiasm. In other parts of the country they had more access to camping than in Berkeley. Here they found themselves more willing to explore the Sierras with the Woolman students.
“In Texas, I did not want to go into the woods. There might be an ax-murderer and I could die. I was terrified to get off the path. At Woolman, I found myself exploring a little more.”
For another youth, camping was a totally new experience altogether.
“I had never been camping before. It was my first time. It was good. I had never done s’mores over a campfire.”
Trying new things gave the youth hope and self-perspective of their growth.
“I learned that I’m not as attached to the city as I thought I was. I used to say I love nature, nature does not love me. I think my personality, I think my view of nature changed. Nature loved me back for the first time. I figured out that I do like to explore the woods.”
The youth started to realize that liking nature is not a personality thing, but something you become accustomed to on the basis of how you grew up. Seeing a new perspective helped to change their views. Some youth saw themselves as more capable, able to get along outside of their normal setting. They felt hopeful, knowing that their skills in music and art could help them get along with new people as well make them be more explorative and willing to try new things generally.
Summarizing in the words of our youth:
“Overall, it was a fantastic experience. The only thing I would have changed: I wish more people came. I think people would have enjoyed it. I’d like to urge people to go more. I think more people need to experience this. You learn so much about yourselves.”