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. 

×

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. 

×

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
What Makes a Great Camp Counselor?

What Makes a Great Camp Counselor?

 

My friend Neil and I were talking about camp the other day and he said that when he was looking for a camp for his son years ago he only got to meet the camp Directors. While it may have been somewhat helpful, he knew that ultimately it would be his son’s counselors who were going to really  impact his son’s experience at camp.

What my friend said is true. As Director of Odyssey Teen Camp, I try my best to hire the forty or so most caring, mature, responsible, intelligent, kind, and fun people that I can. Then we come together for a week before the campers arrive to create a community based on kindness, inclusion, safety, cooperation, vulnerability, trust, and fun, which we can model for every teen who comes to camp.

“Ultimately our mission is to bombard every teen who comes with loving kindness.”

A camp counselor’s job is not easy. The days are long. At Odyssey, counselors not only have the job of creating a great culture in their cabin, they also lead all of our camp activities. For most counselors just getting to camp is not that easy and they have to arrange their lives to come and work in the Berkshires for five weeks for very little money.

Why do they do it?

They come work at camp because they want to help teenagers have fun and feel good about themselves. They know how confusing and hard it felt for them when they were teenagers to feel good about themselves and their world.

Many of them have an idea for the kind of support they could have used from someone who was maybe a few years older to help them navigate their way through middle and high school more gracefully, (and maybe even with more of a sense of humor). They very much want to be that person for our campers.

You would think it would be hard for a young person in their twenties to put their own needs on the back burner for five weeks and to make the needs of their campers their number one priority, but you would be surprised how many counselors do exactly that every summer.

Support is key

During staff training we try to give the counselors skills and tools that will help them be great counselors. We bring in some therapists who are great at helping teenagers, but ultimately staff training really starts the day the campers come. While camp is in session, we have an experienced team of therapists and leaders who help the counselors deal with whatever is coming up for their campers and often for themselves.

We all have things we need to figure out and ways we need to grow and that is certainly true of the young people who come to work at camp, but I am always amazed and grateful to see how good they are at a very tough job.

Sage advice from a veteran director

When I started camp an older Director told me that …

“The counselors are there for the kids and the Director is there for the counselor.”

At the time, I thought not me, I’m going to be there for everyone, and while I try my best and I do get to know certain campers better than others, he was right, the counselors play a key role in the campers’ experience.

The paradox

It’s hard to put into words what makes a great counselor. Sometimes I think that I know exactly what someone will be like as a counselor when I hire him, but the truth is that is not always the case. I think there is a paradox to most every quality in being a great camp counselor.

A counselor has to be willing to make the teens their number one priority, but they also have to take care of themselves sometimes so they do not get overly stressed or have “burnout.”

A counselor has to be hyper vigilant about camp rules and the safety of everyone at camp, but they also need to be able to relax and let some things slide.

A counselor needs to take the concerns of their campers very seriously, but they also need to not get too caught up in the drama that comes with the territory of working at a camp with 180 teenagers.

A counselor needs to plan for their activities and also know that things change all the time and they need to be flexible enough to go with the flow.

A counselor needs to want to help every teenager who comes to camp, and understand that they have their own limitations and will not always be able to reach every camper as well as they would like.

A great counselor needs to walk that fine line between being both a friend and support for their campers, while also being an authority presence who is ultimately in charge of each campers’ well being.

You can see why it is a difficult job. I feel grateful that so many young people want to take that challenge and come be counselors at camp. Ultimately I hire those people who I believe have the highest intentions, knowing that we will all have our challenges along the way, but those intentions can carry us a long way and help a lot of teenagers to have life changing experiences at camp.

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

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

×

Passionately Becoming True to Ourselves at Summer Camp

Passionately Becoming True to Ourselves at Summer Camp

The following post comes from Phoebe, a current camp counselor, that she wrote about attending Odyssey Teen Camp as a teen. Phoebe’s passion for our loving community shines through here in a way that’s different from the typical posts we share on our blog, and we thought it’d be really valuable to re-share with you. Enjoy!

Phoebe’s Take on Odyssey Teen Camp

“Odyssey Teen Camp is fantasy football, but a little less jockey. I don’t know much about sports, but I am vaguely familiar with the concept of fantasy football. I believe that this is what Odyssey Teen Camp is. It’s a collective of just these superhumans coming together to create this amazing and forceful atmosphere. All these people across America, some from lame suburbia to the complexities of New York City and even across the globe all come together, and together we create a team of humans that’s unlike anything you’ll ever experience.

The kind of people that attract Odyssey Teen Camp, if you come from a small town like me, at best, you could find 2 to 3 in your hometown. However at camp together it’s a population of 200 spectacular humans all bringing something different to the table. We are all so different but all have the same goal in mind, and we just produce this amazing flowing energy of creativity, self-authenticity, and unapologetic self-expression. I think that is what makes the environment so special.

You come into camp, no one knows your backstory, social standing in your high school, or even your last name. I think the anonymity that presents itself towards the campers is what allows us to so passionately become true to ourselves, and for a lot of cases for the first time in our lives. It’s the first time we have this place of just complete radical self-acceptance and once we enter the woods and strip ourselves from the outside world, and judgments, and even cell phones this new mindset just enters so naturally. For 11 months of the year, we are all so inclined to harbor these true emotions or ideas but at Odyssey Teen Camp you are released of any hesitations and have so many crazy opportunities to learn, whether it’s a funky new skill or something about yourself.

One of the most gratifying experiences at Odyssey Teen Camp is just taking a step back and looking at the community itself. You can look into the field and see such a broad spectrum of different of people coexisting so freely. The energy and lovingness this space creates are just so satisfying. A lot of times on the subject of leaving camp the word ‘reality’ often shows up in the conversation, as if this little bubble of utopia is just this synchronized dream a couple of hundred teenagers are experiencing at the same time. What we do and experience at Odyssey Teen Camp is completely real and valid. We made this amazing inclusive environment of just pure joy and simpleness just because we decided to, and that is truly spectacular.”

Superhumans come together at camp

Phoebe’s palpable passion is such a fantastic example of the type of young person that makes our teen camp such a special place to be. By gathering a group of like-minded teens together, we really are able to break down the barriers that define us and open ourselves up to something larger.

So, what do you say? Are you ready to come and be a super-human with us? Are you ready to leave behind the person you might be being for someone else, and dig deeper into who you really are? And, better yet, actually get to BE that person free of judgment?

If so, we’d love to see you this summer. We have some Open Houses coming up this Spring where you can come meet teen camp staff and campers.

Or, if you’re already convinced, you can just go ahead and get registered now.

We can’t wait to see you this summer!

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

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

×

Book a call w/ the Director