Yunasa: On My Way Home

February 28, 2017

by Hannah, Yunasa Camper

Do you fit in? Do you have friends? Do you filter your feelings, your thoughts, your ideas or your words when around others? Have you “played the part” to be accepted?  Are you worried about losing your true self?  Do you wonder if you will ever be understood?  Do you feel things so intensely that sometimes you think there must be something wrong with you?

Pretty deep questions for a kid to have to deal with, huh? Well, like it or not, questions and thoughts like this are what many gifted outliers deal with.  It is not easy to look like a kid, yet think, worry and fret over issues that are so not “kid-like”. On top of not being easy, there is the issue of not having anyone to rant to, or talk to, or just hang with that also understands you. A lot of us gifted kids don’t have a tribe.

Finding My Tribe

This year in June, I, like so many other kids across the country, will be attending summer camp.  However, my summer camp is so much more than just a summer camp.  I will be attending  Yunasa West  – It’s located in the beautiful mountains of Colorado,  far away from cities, technology and really far away from my home in California.

Yunasa West is where I’ve found my tribe. It is a summer camp program for gifted kids to help them understand themselves; and for me, it’s helped me understand that I belong.

‘Yunasa’ means Balance in Lakota, and the goal of the one week camp is to balance all sides of giftedness – intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and physical. This is not as easy as it sounds, since balance does not come naturally to kids who tend to be “high-energy” in their area of strength. Yunasa gives us a chance to strengthen our weaknesses and grow; all in an attempt to achieve balance. Every time after camp, I go away knowing more about myself, and feeling more like I truly have a place in the world.

One week?  All of this in one tiny, little week?

Sure, one week of being with a group you really belong in may not seem like enough time, but it is!  I came away from my very first summer at Yunasa with knowledge – the following knowledge:

Everyone belongs somewhere. There is always someone like you in the world.

It gives me something to look forward to for the next year, as well as the knowledge that I’m not alone in the world.

I’m Home

The words, ‘I’ve found my tribe,’ will be mentioned a lot here, and I want to share something with you, to help fully express how true those words are.

I have experienced “first day of camp” thrice, and on each of those first days at Yunasa, the words “I’m home,” run through my mind…over and over.

I know I’m safe at Yunasa, and I can be me. I can let go of my chameleon-ness.  I can talk about things that outside of Yunasa, would just cause people to stare at me confusedly, and/or then tease me about.

My home with my tribe is a place where I can talk about nearly being knocked off a hill by a tiny plant that wasn’t even moving; all because I was holding my hands out to it – and not be laughed at.

The place where people don’t tease me about my grade level, or ask if I’ve skipped grades. The place that I fit in. My second (or is it my first?) home.

Belonging is more important than fitting in.

Being a part of my tribe, means I am respected and my knowledge and my knowing is valued and can be shared with others. The same is true of the elders in our tribe; their knowledge and knowing is valued and they lovingly pass it on to us.  Being this odd, different, quirky kid can be a little scary. We can look around searching for proof that we will be okay. We search for adults who are like us, so we can be reassured that we too can grow up and grow into our true selves. It is sometimes hard to find those examples of our future selves, (too many people have hidden themselves, or have played the part of a chameleon for so long that they have forgotten who they really are) so when we are at Yunasa, we look up to our elders, and breathe a sigh of relief.

Stephanie Tolan, one of the Camp Elders, and  a Senior Fellow of Yunasa, compares gifted kids and cheetahs.

“If a cheetah is confined to a 10 X 12 foot cage, though it may pace or fling itself against the bars in restless frustration, it won’t run 70 mph.


If a cheetah has only 20 mph rabbits to chase for food, it won’t run 70 mph while hunting. If it did, it would flash past its prey and go hungry! Though it might well run on its own for exercise, recreation, fulfillment of its internal drive, when given only rabbits to eat the hunting cheetah will run only fast enough to catch a rabbit.


If a cheetah is fed Zoo Chow it may not run at all.


If a cheetah is sick or if its legs have been broken, it won’t even walk.


“…Schools are to extraordinarily intelligent children what zoos are to cheetahs. Many schools provide a 10 x 12 foot cage, giving the unusual mind no room to get up to speed. Many highly gifted children sit in the classroom the way big cats sit in their cages, dull-eyed and silent. Some, unable to resist the urge from inside even though they can’t exercise it, pace the bars, snarl and lash out at their keepers, or throw themselves against the bars until they do themselves damage.”

-Stephanie Tolan  (for the complete Is It A Cheetah essay…click here)

Yunasa, to me, is a place where cheetahs can run full-speed, with no bars to hold them back. A place where we can grow and learn about ourselves, and where we are given tools to help us… out in the ‘real world.’

Yunasa is an amazing refuge and a second home,  if you feel like you don’t fit in – anywhere. 

It’s a place to just be yourself and a place where you will learn to balance all parts of yourself.

I Belong

I have found a place where I belong. I have found a place where I can see a little of myself in my peers. I have found a place where I can see my future walking along side me.  Yunasa exists for longer than just one week, as I always take a little of it away with me each summer, and nurture it until I return the next year.  I have learned to live for every moment of every day, and not just for my one week homecoming at Yunasa. Yes, Yunasa has helped teach me this!

If you are interested in applying for a Yunasa Summer Camp, please visit the IEA website for more information and full application.

This post originally appeared on Hannah’s blog, Uncharted Journey, and has been reposted with permission.

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