By Jennifer de la Haye
Jennifer is a recent addition to the IEA staff and attended Yunasa for the first time this summer. IEA’s pioneering Yunasa summer camps unite highly able youngsters with experts in the social and emotional development of gifted children. Campers explore and grow the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, social, and physical aspects of their lives.
Yunasa 2014 left me breathless – perhaps because this was my first Yunasa experience, or perhaps because Yunasa is a special and unique hub of safety, growth, and unparalleled camp-magic. The afternoon of Sunday, July 27, campers began to filter into the conference center of Camp Copneconic in Fenton, Michigan; some brows were knitted, some smiles were uncertain, some faces looked thoughtful. Several of the kids seemed to float, others skipped, many hugged with excited ferocity, quite a few squealed and jumped up and down as they spotted a friend. The older campers – deemed either EL for ‘Emerging Leader’ or CIT for ‘Counselor in Training’ – whose bonds with one another are indurate after years of Yunasa, dispersed to welcome the younger campers, show them to their rooms, and initiate ice-breaking exercises. Kids who seemed a bit apprehensive were directed to the table of Yunasa Buddies, cuddly stuffed animals donated by staff and campers meant to offer a bit of comfort throughout the week.
On the first night of camp, Newbury Honor Award winner and IEA Senior Fellow Stephanie Tolan led a group discussion on her work, Flight of the Raven, the second book in a series about four gifted youth who combine powers to save a violent, troubled world. I was immediately struck by the depth and intelligence of the conversation; the questions the campers asked were interesting and insightful. And so mature. Was I sitting in on a college literature course or was I watching a summer camp unfold?
During the rest of the week, the Fellows offered a variety of workshops about topics such as literary archetypes, the emotional life of the brain, “gifted gripes”, contemporary music, line dancing, energy healing, and soul collage – the art of assembling randomly selected pictures torn from assorted magazines into a piece that, once finished, renders an interesting reflection of the artist. Yunasa Fellow Dan Tichenor headed the Rube Goldberg team, a committed group who worked all week to create a highly complicated machine with the sole mission of turning a single page in a book. In twenty years, Dan has seen only one Rube Goldberg machine that actually fulfilled its purpose. This year, the Yunasa team succeeded! The page was turned.
Each camper was assigned to a psychosynthesis group, which was led by one of the Fellows and met each day to practice guided imagery and mind-calming techniques. Everyone also had the opportunity to participate in Heart of the Matter, a session in which groups were able to discuss the issues they have dealt with throughout the year with Dr. Patricia Gatto-Walden, IEA Senior Fellow and licensed psychologist.
Unity amongst the campers began to form on Sunday night, and by Monday, the day of the Opening Ceremony and Spirit Journey, genuine connections were becoming apparent. The solemn respect, acceptance, and love of these campers seemed to permeate the circle surrounding the campfire.
To develop their physical selves, campers participated in various high adventure activities like Creek Freak – a zipline that sends campers soaring over an expanse of rocky creek, Tower Zipline – a higher version that catapults the truly courageous from the top of an enormous tower, the Giant Swing, and a high ropes course. Some of the more leisurely activities included fishing, archery, canoeing, and Hammockville – a glorious conglomeration of trees where campers set up hammocks and relax.
Every Yunasa evening offered a special camp-wide activity. The leadership campers organized a beach party and subsequent campfire…
A movie-themed social…
And a Variety Show.
An ice cream social and the Closing Ceremony were held on the final night of camp.
In a post-camp survey, one of our fabulous leadership campers articulated, “The friendships I have made and inner confidence I have gained has made this year’s Yunasa experience totally valuable in a way that I couldn’t ever have imagined. Even though the past five Yunasas I have been to were amazing and life-changing, this one left me truly speechless.”
For me, watching these incredible kids emerge from their comfort zones to reach out, forge deep friendships, grow emotionally, and take physical risks was an inspiration and a delight.