DIVERSITY - “25 years and my life is still, tryin’ to get up that great big hill of HOPE….” is heard coming from a camper singing at the pool and playing the ukulele. The camper is soon joined by their fellow cabinmates in singing the chorus, and another day of hope at Camp Mulberry has begun!
This past August, Camp Mulberry, the nation’s only free resident camp program specifically for transgender/gender diverse youth (aged 6-17) welcomed a limited number of youth (due to COVID restrictions), to its annual summer camp session. With every precaution taken to ensure a COVID free summer camp, youth from all over country arrived.
“Getting the youth outdoors, active, socially connected and in a safe space where they were free to live their authentic self, was just what they needed after a year of isolation due to the pandemic.” Margot Anderson the Founder and CEO stated. “When families heard we were going to hold camp this summer, we had a huge wait list to attend.”
Summer camp was different this year, starting with everyone upon arrival at camp, taking a Rapid Covid-19 test and a PCR test. Each camper and their entire family had to agree to self-isolate 14 days prior to camp to ensure there were no outbreaks at camp. Traveling in their cabin groups and wearing masks, while socially distancing from other cabin groups, the kids started the camp week. After the first day, no one cared we had masks on, we were all so happy to just be at camp, be with our friends, make new friends and just be themselves!
The objectives of Camp Mulberry’s program are to bring transgender/gender diverse youth to an emotionally and physically safe space, free of charge so that they can connect, build important support groups, and live as their authentic self. Activities such as horseback riding, archery, canoeing, swimming, high and low ropes, and arts and crafts, help to build campers self-esteem, teach important life-skills, and provide mental health support. With 24/7 on site volunteer licensed social workers, medical staff, and counselors, campers enter into a week of joy, fun, acceptance and hope!
“They were so happy when they got home, self-esteem definitely improved and they told us all about the new things they tried. They made a lot of new friends, which was the biggest hope for us. As soon as they walked in the door they said “I can’t wait for next year!”. Stated a parent.
Parker (name changed for confidentiality), a first-time camper said “I found my people. I felt more confident about my myself, and proud of who I was”.
The goal of each program is to improve the mental and physical health of the youth by building resilience and inspiring hope. Through the formation of peer support groups, and the teaching of important coping and life skills, the youth are empowered to rise above the adversities they face daily in their lives and live as their authentic self.
For the past 29 years, The Laurel Foundation (Laurel-Foundation.org) has provided free year-round educational, mental health and social support programs specifically to empower children and youth affected by HIV/AIDS and transgender/gender diverse youth. The first free program in the nation of its kind, the organization has grown from an organization serving 14 HIV+ youth at summer camp to serving over 700 participants annually through award-winning year-round programs designed to meet the unique emotional and physical needs of the youth by constructing a safe, brave space that supports their mental and physical health.
With the help of over 50 volunteer medical staff, social workers and camp counselors, Camp Mulberry went off without a hitch. The kids went home having made new friends, learning new skills, increased self-esteem and hope!
For more information on The Laurel Foundation visit Laurel-Foundation.org.
(Margot Anderson is Founder & CEO of the Laurel Foundation.)