Shasta Youth Leadership Camp
By Sue Ralston
Photo: Sarah Hartley
Want to cultivate youth and teens who are healthy, happy leaders who can positively influence their peers? How about getting them off of their couches, away from their screens and out into
This is the aim of Shasta Youth Leadership Camp, an annual camp designed to foster drug- and substance-free teens in Shasta County. With the support of the Youth Violence Prevention Council and involvement by local law enforcement and drug prevention agencies, kids in fourth through eighth grades apply in the spring and are selected by their teachers and Shasta Youth Leadership staff to attend a three-day, four-night camp in July at Whiskeytown Environmental School.
By developing their leadership potential, kids learn that they’re not just “saying no to drugs.” They are being trained to be leaders in their schools and their peer groups, a positive example of living a drug-, gang- and violence-free life. Charlie Menoher, former Shasta County superintendent of schools and former director of the Youth Violence Prevention Council, was instrumental in creating the camp in its current form. When the state stopped funding school Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) programs years ago, Menoher saw a void and was determined to help fill it, while moving the curriculum toward more of a leadership focus. He says, “You need kids who are face to face with other kids and acting as good role models.” The key elements of saying no to drugs and peer pressure are still there, but at the core of the new model are the concepts of participation, affiliation and expectations. “Kids have a chance to participate and belong; they have a chance to succeed,”
Janaea Guterding, who has been in charge of the camp for the past six years and involved with it for more than a dozen, says deep bonds and lasting friendships are made there. Central to the camp experience is the rule that no electronic devices are allowed in camp. They are rarely missed. “We start with camp songs and dinner that first night, then have a keynote speaker in line with that year’s theme.” Last year the camp had an Olympic theme with snowboarder Kelly Clark as keynote speaker. Clark is a three-time Olympic gold medalist who also started a foundation that awards grants and scholarships to youth, making snowboarding more financially accessible and increasing diversity in the sport. She delivered a message of empowerment, urging the campers to live healthy lives.
During the four days of camp, barriers are quickly broken down. On Monday morning, kids break into four different “color groups” with bright T-shirts designating them and participate in three hours of leadership training. Tuesday’s activities include team-building exercises designed to get the kids working together. Challenges include making a “spider web” in a thicket of trees, using yellow crime scene tape that they must get through without touching the tape, forcing them to collaborate to come up with solutions.
On Public Safety Day, law enforcement officers stage a mock pursuit inside camp. Three police cars chase a “bad guy” and the SWAT team performs an extraction. A California Highway Patrol helicopter lands in the meadow, and a police dog is part of the proceedings. Kids can talk to the officers and learn more about what they do. “It helps build a positive relationship between the campers and law enforcement,” Guterding says.
Before meals, teams are in a competition. They might, for instance, be tasked with making up new lyrics to current pop songs, giving the words a breakfast theme. It encourages teamwork, then rewards the winners, who get to go first to the meal. Courtney Graves, now 19, started camp in seventh grade and has been a camper or counselor since then. “My favorite part is the enthusiasm and cheering during our competitions,” she says. “We were all so close by the end of camp.” Graves is a nanny and a student at Shasta College who says she fell in love with working with kids during her summers.
Says 19-year-old Cameron Raab, a former camper who is now a counselor: “My favorite thing about camp is how welcoming it is and that it’s a diverse environment where no one is shut out.” One exercise the kids perform when they gather in their cabins in the evening is writing a positive thing about each person. They’re encouraged to go beyond the surface when they choose what to say. “We say, ‘Don’t compliment their hair. Remark on how they’re always kind to others,’” Guterding says.
Those who run the camp believe everyone should have the opportunity to attend, so tuition fees are low and limited scholarships are available. Says Guterding, “We could not possibly have camp without the generous donations of so many businesses and service clubs in the area.” •
Shasta Youth Leadership Camp
(530) 227-0954• Find SYLC on Facebook
Camp dates: July 16-19, 2017
Counselor applications available online March 2017
Camper applications available online April 2017