Our Summers Save Lives

Our Summers Save Lives

Adam Simon, Director of OTC with campers.

20 years ago, when I started Odyssey Teen Camp, I could not have imagined the impact this camp would have on my life as well as thousands of other people’s lives.

A safe space

The concept was simple – create a summer camp for teenagers where they were safe from bullying and emotional abuse. A place where they were accepted, honored, and celebrated, just for being themselves.

Campers at OTC embrace.

I wanted it to be a camp where teens could relax, and instead of hiding or building up their defenses, they would feel safe and free to share their gifts, dreams, and passions as well as their insecurities and vulnerabilities.

A life-changing experience

Since its inception, thousands of teenagers have spent their summers at Odyssey Teen Camp, and many tell me that OTC changed their lives. On several occasions, someone has told me that camp literally saved their life.

Being a teenager is difficult at best. Because of the physical changes they are going through, pressures in their daily life and time spent on social media, it is very difficult for a teenager to feel good about themselves. They often get very shy, and will often hide different parts of themselves, (often the best parts).

The power of a loving community

Teenagers who come to OTC can get a break from all of that. I don’t think there is anything more healing for a teenager than to be with peers who see, accept, and love them just the way they are.

Sharing circle at camp.

The realization that we all have our insecurities and weaknesses and can be loved anyway can help teenagers give themselves a much-needed break. They can move beyond the worries about what they look like or what other people think of them, and find the courage and confidence to try new things and share their thoughts and feelings.

I think the type of loving community we create at OTC can be life-changing and for some even life-saving.

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

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From a Feeling of Malice to Hope. One Camper’s Odyssey. A Personal Letter From Kendall.

From a Feeling of Malice to Hope. One Camper’s Odyssey. A Personal Letter From Kendall.

Kendall playing guitar

Odyssey Teen Camp means different things to different campers, but one thing they all can agree on is that OTC changed their life.

Kendall was a camper at OTC starting in 2014. His life was transformed as he built friendships, discovered a new sense of belonging, and regained his confidence. Here Kendall shares his story about his odyssey of self-discovery while spending summers at OTC.

Kendall with friends at camp.

A letter to potential donors:

A sanctuary. A respite. A city behind trees that teaches the most invaluable entity a young person could possess: self-love. This is Odyssey Teen Camp.

My adolescence was quite literally an odyssey. A hero’s journey out of an abyss with a transformation that could have only been possible because of camp. People who know me now as an adult would never know, but I was jaded. I was convinced that the world consisted mostly of bad people and malice because that was all I had known. And yet somehow, sitting by a bonfire, watching the flames dance and being bitten by mosquitoes, I learned there is so much more.

Camp is harm reduction.

If there is one reason to donate to Odyssey Teen Camp it is because of the way it unequivocally helps marginalized communities. There is no place I felt safer as an LGBTQ+ young person. Camp showed me that there is a place for me in this world and I deserve to exist authentically as I am. In every daily activity, interactions with counselors and peers, and nights spent dancing like no one is watching, you learn to love yourself. You learn that what makes you different is the thing that is the most beautiful and should be celebrated.

Kendall with friends at camp.

If Odyssey Teen Camp were not able to continue, it would be a cataclysmic loss to the young people that have no other community. The teenagers with parents that don’t accept them and the peers at school that are even worse, would not be able to have a break from social marginalization, even if only for a few weeks every summer.

So give.

Give because while you may not have much to lose from a meer summer camp struggling to continue, at-risk youth have much to lose. Give because I made it, and every other young person who feels alone deserves to make it too, and this can be achieved through learning to love yourself and learning that there is a place in this world for you at camp.

Thank you,

Kendall Kalustyan
He/Him/His
Member of the OTC community from 2014-2020

Give Now to Odyssey Teen Camp

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

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How We Can Help Our Anxious Teens Live Heroic Lives

How We Can Help Our Anxious Teens Live Heroic Lives

Teen taking a risk amongst friends at Odyssey Teen Camp

There seem to be more teenagers than ever before living with a debilitating degree of anxiety. A study by the National Institute of Health recently showed that one in three teenagers will experience an anxiety disorder, and anxiety is now considered the number one mental health problem in the U.S.

I’m sure there’s a long list of things that contribute to teenagers feeling so anxious including not enough sleep, too much time staring at screens, not enough exercise, social media, high expectations to achieve, puberty, genetics, poor diets, and the fact that our world seems pretty scary, but I think the biggest cause of social anxiety is teenagers’ fears of being judged, embarrassed, and ridiculed.

The courage to live bigger

Most of the teenagers who come to camp with a diagnosis of social anxiety are some of my favorite people. They are sweet, sensitive, kind and introspective. Unfortunately, they are also way too concerned with what they imagine other people might think about them. These worries about social approval and all the self-consciousness that comes with it can make them stop doing all the things that they really want to do, including making friends, trying new things, relaxing and being themselves. Their lives become a lot smaller at a time when they should become bigger. How can we help them find the courage to take the kinds of calculated risks that will help them discover more about themselves? How can we help them connect more with others and begin creating the lives they want to create?

 

I know it can feel bleak when anxiety seems to be stopping our teens in their tracks, but I also know that social anxiety can be overcome, and I’ve been watching teenagers do it at camp for a long time. I’ve heard that anxiety is the gap between the present and the future, and at camp, we are able to create a space where teens can relax and live more in the present.

A safe container

When teenagers recognize they are not being judged and that it’s perfectly o.k. to sometimes feel confused, insecure, clueless, and make mistakes without being put down or humiliated, it frees them to show who they really are. When they get that others are there to support them with kindness, friendship, and love, they can let go of many of their defenses, share their gifts, choose freedom over safety, love over fear, and connection over isolation.

I’m sure that convincing socially anxious teens to come to camp for the first time can be quite a challenge. I’ll write my next blog with some ideas about that, but if you want to talk about it, you can join our Facebook Group to support parents of teens with anxiety, or reach out to me directly, maybe I can help.

Thanks,

Adam

How My Twice Exceptional Teen Became a Happy Camper

How My Twice Exceptional Teen Became a Happy Camper

A mom recently wrote about her son Fen’s experience at camp. He’s been coming to OTC for the past five years. Fen is one of the most original, interesting and hilarious campers who has come to camp. He’s not always the easiest and when he first came to camp he seemed to want to go home on a pretty regular basis, but I’m glad he stayed because he’s made our camp better every summer.

Fen’s mom says our camp is perfect for a 2e kid. While I’m not an expert on twice-exceptional people, the teens who have come to camp whose parents have told me are “twice-exceptional” have done really well. I was struck when Fen’s mom  wrote, “most camps are designed to produce an outcome. He needed freedom.” I think the only outcome we ever shoot for at camp is to help kids be themselves, have fun, maybe even find a little joy and laughter.

 

“OTC was a refuge for our twice exceptional son”

I don’t really know how to explain the refuge that Odyssey Teen Camp is for our twice exceptional son. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a smart kid and makes his way in life, but it’s a rough path with lots of bumps in the road. If you know and love a 2e kid, you know they aren’t typical. They don’t fit easily into the categories of special ed, gifted ed or gen ed. Unless you’re lucky enough to have them in a school made for this population, you know they spend a great majority of their time in school and activities making it work, being a round peg in a square hole.

At OTC, our 2e child fit perfectly by just being who he is, and the gift that is to him and our family is hard to articulate.

“Most camps are designed to produce an outcome”

Let me start by telling you we’d tried a variety of camps for him over the years. He’s attended sleepover, day, sports, comedy and drama camps as well as after school classes.. Results varied, but the theme throughout was typically a forced experience our kid endured. Most camps are designed to produce an outcome; a better athlete, actor or computer skills. These are great for many kids, but ours had a hard time in these more rigid organized environments that focus on a skill. So much of a 2e kid’s life is work, he needed freedom. He also typically struggled in social settings because intricacies of a group dynamic could overwhelm him. He needed a place he could be completely authentic, to proudly be his quirky unconventional self with no judgement. If past experience proved true for us, that seemed unlikely.

“it’s a place full of quirky kids”

The summer before our son went to high school, his college-aged sister mentioned a summer camp her friend had attended and worked at for many years. She thought it would be a good fit for her little brother. “Mom,” she said, “it’s a place full of quirky kids.” She told me it wasn’t therapeutic, not themed or skills based and not intentionally for 2e kids… just a place where differences were celebrated, judgement was non-existent and kids were told to be “exactly who they are.”

If you’re the parent of a twice exceptional kid like me, you might be as skeptical as I was. Be exactly who they are isn’t something you’re used to hearing. Raising a 2e kid means a lot of time spent listening to the ways your child is the squeaky wheel and all the ways your child can adjust their true selves to fit into school, enrichment programs, teams, etc. To think there’s a place where they can just “be” seems suspect. I needed to investigate.

I called my daughter’s friend. She knew our son and wholeheartedly thought he’d love OTC. When I said that I didn’t think he’d like a full day of activities, she mentioned an afternoon class she’d taught called Cloud Watching because she said, “some kids need to lay on the lawn and stare at the sky for an hour.” I mentioned he sometimes had trouble maneuvering social situations, she assured me this was rarely an issue at OTC for any kid.

“I called OTC’s director… I held nothing back”

I called Adam Simon, OTC’s director. I honestly described the ins and outs of our son’s personality. His intensities, overexcitabilities, and anxiety. His disabling fear of insects and propensity for only eating peanut butter related food. I said he could be argumentative, anxious, stubborn and inflexible. I also shared his humor, kindness, wit and ability to speak with boundless passion about subjects he cherished. I held nothing back. As the phone call came to an end I waited to hear what I had been conditioned to hear, pause and hesitation. I waited to hear the ways this “might” work or that this probably would be a challenge, or a flat out no. But, if memory serves me Adam barely skipped a beat and said he couldn’t wait to meet our son. We signed him up.

I don’t know how Adam and his amazing staff manage to unite and empower a diverse group of teens who by the end of camp seem to radiate connection and happiness. OTC is, in my opinion, a rare opportunity for teens in our culture. A place where nothing more is required than to be real, be good and just be. Don’t get me wrong, there seems to be plenty of opportunity to learn some cool skills and there are plenty of activities, it’s just that the main focus is on being a kid, not planning for college or adulthood. OTC campers fully embrace the moment that is being a teenager, the opportunity to be totally goofy, filled with energetic emotion, and completely real.

“He got to be exactly who he is, and that, for a 2e kid is a unique & beautiful thing.”

At OTC our guy swims in all of his clothes, takes classes on things like Yoga, Food & Music and Protesting. He does stand up comedy and had a plastic skeleton for a cabin-mate. He got totally homesick, wanted to leave and was encouraged and reassured to stay by his amazing pod leaders. He was appreciated and encouraged by camp staff to grow as a person, conquer his fears and try new things. He acted weird, dressed like a banana, sang songs, made friends, and most importantly felt completely included in a community where everyone is celebrated. He got to be exactly who he is, and that, for a 2e kid is a unique & beautiful thing.

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

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Top Ten Things I’ve Learned About 2e (Twice Exceptional) Teens

Top Ten Things I’ve Learned About 2e (Twice Exceptional) Teens

Adam Simon - Camp Director with a camper

Adam Simon, Camp Director with a camper at Odyssey Teen Camp

I’ve been learning about twice exceptionality (2e) from some moms whose 2e teens come to camp. They are great advocates for their own children and for all 2e kids. I’m particularly grateful to Kim Pine who wrote an informative post about her 2e son’s camp experience and Maratea Cantarella from Twice Exceptional Children’s Advocacy (TECA), who have shared a lot of wisdom with me.

Here are some things I’ve learned

1) 2e kids really exist and there are probably hundreds of thousands of them in the U.S. They are people with some kind of learning or neurological difference AND they are also gifted in some areas. Both exceptionalities can and do exist in a single person.

2) Whether they have ADHD, a specific learning disability or are on the autism spectrum, most have been through tough and sometimes traumatic experiences at school.

3) Many have been treated as outsiders and feel like they are different.

4) Like all teens, 2e kids are trying to understand themselves, searching for identity and  truth and meaning in their lives.

5) Many are grappling with their sexual identity and gender expression.

6) Like Kermit, who says it’s not easy being green, it’s not always easy being 2e.

7) 2e teens can be really hard on themselves – they tend to be perfectionists and have difficulty accepting that we all make mistakes and mess up sometimes.

8) The best thing we can do to help 2e teens is to provide opportunities for them to explore and express their gifts. When they succeed through sharing their strengths, it helps them feel better about themselves, which leads to more and more success.

9) Our camp is better with more diversity. This includes ethnic, racial, gender and neurological diversity

10) The 2e teens who have come to camp have brought a lot of laughter, creativity, empathy, sensitivity and wacky fun. They’ve made friends, been leaders, and made camp more interesting for everyone.

2e resources

If you would like to learn more about twice exceptionality or if you think your teen might be twice exceptional, here are some resources to check out:

 

  • http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/twiceexceptional.pdf
  • https://teca2e.org
  • https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources-parents/twice-exceptional-students
  • https://www.sengifted.org/post/postma-shangri-la
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