Our inaugural year of Yo! Camp was something magical. Let's explore where that magic comes from.

It happens every year. Camp comes and goes, and as the staff gets together to reminisce on the good, the great, and the spectacular, we often say, "what a magical experience," or "camp is magic." But what does that even mean? 

The word "magic" implies a certain intangible, indescribable element that, by definition, can't be explained. I find that we use the word because we don't quite know how to encapsulate this deep experience into words. 

But I'll take my best shot here. Let's dive into the key elements that make camp so special to campers and staff. 

Yo! Camp is Joy

It's now been two decades since I've been working with kids, and there's one constant need that I've seen again and again: kids need to play. 

College prep, extracurriculars, information overload, and social media. I've seen so much on our kids' plates that the freedom to grow organically into their individual selves is crowded out. They're keeping up with school work, "keeping up with the joneses" through social media, and all the while, there are fewer and fewer occasions where kids are experiencing pure joy. 

But isn't that the point of all of this work? The academics, the resume building, college prep; it's all to aid the kiddos in their pursuit of happiness. But, if our kids haven't had enough experiences to understand what happiness and joy mean for them, haven't we missed the point? 

Which brings me to my first point: the magic of Yo! Camp comes from experiencing pure joy. 

It's a bit of a brag, but camp has the best-of-the-best staff, even in our first year. Sure, they're trained in first aid, youth development, and outdoor safety, but the real magic comes from these leaders' charisma, energy, and creativity. These are the magicians that make a karaoke night a competitive Kohaku night, a sustainability workshop into a "Nature Olympics," or a dinner meal into an ultimate trivia night. 

Sure, the educational value of the workshops matter, but behind every campfire, every meal, and every session are campers and staff, all having the time of their lives. It's one of the most uplifting and inspirational things you'll ever see. It's what's kept me plugged into this work for so many years.

Yo! Camp is Growth

Let's talk about playtime just a little bit more. I find that play often takes a backseat to extracurriculars because its value is not immediately apparent. 

But what stood out to me about camp is that our kids experienced tremendous growth in their seven days of camp, perhaps more growth than the rest of the 358 days of the year. 

It's a bold statement, but let me elaborate.

I chalk that up to the concentrated overnight experience, one that is outside and away from the norm. At camp, you must learn to compromise with your peers because you'll be with them 24/7 for an entire week. At camp, you have to eat that piece of broccoli you are probably not forced to eat while at home. At camp, we want you to be 100% yourself as you sing loud and proud in your cabin skit. 

The magic of learning once again comes from the magicians. These are the folks that know that everything at camp is a learning experience. Our instructors teach the curriculum that is the backbone of our cultural and identity-based workshops. Counselors reinforce the learning experiences from everyday interactions. Even if our campers trip and fall, our medical team helps to teach the valuable lesson of resilience.

The small things add up, and in just one year of camp, the growth has been incredible.

 

Yo! Camp is the Memories 

I am not the only one still talking about camp. Ask any of our kids to recall their favorite memories from the year–guaranteed that at least one of them is from our camp. Then, ask our staff to do the same.

This is the most important part of the equation. 

If human development–actions, words, and decisions–is built on a foundation of personal memories, wouldn't we want key memories to be from the joy and growth that we experience at camp? 

One of our team members recently shared a memory from a previous camp we had both attended; she as a camper, me as a counselor. Unfortunately, our dance activity encountered a fatal error when our portable speaker system ran out of batteries. But fear not kids; instead, you get to listen to an acapella performance sung by your counselors for the rest of the evening (I lost my voice for the rest of the week after this activity). Over a decade later, this team member is one of our proudest (and loudest) and cites this story as an unforgettable memory that served as her early inspiration for wanting to work with kids. 

In sharing that story, she said, "you probably don't even remember this happening." False. I remember everything. I remember it like it was yesterday. It's a memory that made me want to continue counseling for many years following. 

Personal memories and shared memories: these are the things that make camp special. 

Yo! Camp is Magic

For next year, I'd like to make our camp slogan: "Make Magic, Every Day." 

Because that's exactly what we'll do. We'll discover life-defining moments and build lifelong memories. We'll learn, grow, and do it again and again, day after day and year after year. 

And...we have a few surprises in store for next year. So get ready to see something new at camp that's seldom been done in our community before. It's big, and it's bold. That's all I can say for now.

On behalf of the entire staff at Yo! Camp, it was our pleasure to break ground on a new foundation of growth and development for the next generation. From our best to your best.

See you next year, and get ready to make magic every day. 

*To learn more about Yo! Camp, visit our website at itsyocamp.com. Registration for the 2023 program will open in January 2023 with an early bird discount. 

When Tragedy Strikes in Nonprofit Work

Strengthening capacity to navigate tragedy and support wellness in nonprofit work. Read until the end for philanthropy's role in supporting nonprofit workers.

Read More >>

Saishin Dojo: Continuing Culture

“Say ‘hashi’ and not ‘chopstick.’ Say ‘kaikan’ instead of ‘social hall.’” Rev. Mas explained to us how adults ask questions, and want to know the exact meaning of everything, but the kids will pick it up. It’s the way we all learned. 

Read More >>

Community-Building Comes First | An Interview with KC Mukai

Learn the story of how the JACL launched a youth-focused district board and the passionate leader who made it happen. An interview with KC Mukai of the JACL NCWNP District Youth Board.

Read More >>

What Sounds Like Home: On Creating Black and Asian American Identity Through Music

As Asian Americans, we too can lose sight of music as a border-defying site of home-making. Too often, Asian American artists and musicians are embroiled in Black cultural appropriation just to shed these ornamentations later in favor of another aesthetic. So how do we make a better home for each other in our music?

Read More >>