No matter rain or shine or global pandemic, Hands4Hope put on an amazing leadership camp with 63 youth in attendance. The camp was themed Retreat Island and had both a safe, in-person component and virtual workshops and team building activities. The Hands4Hope Education Team, along with the Youth Board Executive Committee, planned and hosted two camps, one for middle school leaders and one for high school leaders.
Traditionally, camp is a time when all of the high school and middle school leaders come together to learn more about each other and how to lead their peers through the stages of service learning. The Hands4Hope Leadership Camp happens once a year and is usually held for multiple days at Coloma Resort in conjunction with Coloma Outdoor Discovery School, but this year looked a little different, to say the least. The camp hosted youth leaders from 12 local middle and high schools, with 51 leaders attending the in-person half-day retreats, and an additional 12 youth leaders joining in for the virtual Zoom workshops.
The hybrid camp was kicked-off with an in-person day camp, composed of various leadership training, team-building, and character development activities. Due to the pandemic, the training day followed state and county guidelines, requiring masks and practicing social distancing. The venue was the Labyrinth, a local retreat site owned by the Reed Family in Diamond Springs. The property set the tone for a peaceful, creative and engaging environment. Leaders participated in learning a wide variety of tools. Youth were taught about their specific roles as leaders and how to go through the service project planning process. In traditional Hands4Hope style, there was more than just discussion, camp included a lot of fun and safe games, like squirting others with water guns if they answered questions incorrectly and pool-noodle charades!
The most important aspect was learning about the peers that you would be working with. Just from spending a day with my group, I already could feel the ice melt away. The majority of leaders expressed their favorite part of camp was being able to connect with their school club leadership teams. Another participant explained that it is “crucial to get to know your team so you can feel comfortable working and collaborating with them in the future.” A huge aspect of Hands4Hope is teamwork and communication, and the basis for this had been established at camp. School clubs and afterschool committees will continue to build off of this foundation throughout the year.
Although in-person camp has been the norm for many years, times have changed, and so has Hands4Hope! This year, clubs and committees will generally have their meetings over Zoom and use virtual platforms, as they have been doing for the last few months. Because of this, it was appropriate to design the majority of training on Zoom. Navigating and exploring Zoom features like breakout rooms and polls, gave campers the experience of meeting with those who shared similar strengths, those they would be working alongside, as well as new leaders from other schools they’d never met. Since leaders will be using Zoom to hold their own meetings, the main goal was to show them how an engaging Zoom meeting could be held. It turns out the “mock Zoom meetings” were a hit!
Oftentimes, during a Zoom meeting participants have wanted to press the “Leave” button, and the main goal this year is to keep the school club and after school committee participants excited to come to Hands4Hope meetings (even if they are digital). Each club and committee was assigned the task to prepare for and then present a mock meeting to other leaders, which proved to be quite popular. 100% of high schoolers and middle schoolers found the mock practice meeting useful. Leaders enjoyed the mock Zoom meetings because it gave them “ideas and practice on meetings for this year” and helped prepare them to “lead meetings on Zoom”. The leaders can now use the experience from digital camp on Zoom and translate it to how they can run their own club meetings virtually.
Camp couldn’t have been possible without the hard-work of the Hands4Hope Education Program staff and the youth leaders of the Youth Board Executive Committee. With six youth and three adults, the planning team put in a great deal of thought into this year’s camp. Camp has generally stayed the same over the years, so this was a challenging task that the planning team handled creatively. Devising fun and efficient solutions proved to keep everyone safe during the in-person portion. Something all campers enjoyed were the pool noodles each person received, which also helped enforce social distancing. There was one rule: not having your pool noodles touch another's. They also delivered s'mores to every camper, so that they could have a “campfire” over Zoom. Additionally, they had to think of ways to engage and get leaders to participate in Zoom, which was done through discussions about everyone's unique Top 5 Strengths and personal values. Overall, even though the planning team had to completely revamp the schedule, they did it in a way that incorporated the traditional aspects of camp, as well as new, creative strategies for a virtual camp.
Not only did I enjoy being a camper, but I also enjoyed being a member of the planning team! I’d never planned a retreat in my life, and planning the high school and middle school camps was a change in pace. It was so great to see everything come together. Ultimately, the most rewarding thing was making meaningful connections with our fellow leaders. So, despite 2020 being less than ideal, Hands4Hope leaders will continue to look for creative ways to plan service projects and help fill unmet needs in our communities while being flexible and safe.
The Hands4Hope - Youth Making A Difference Youth Board is the advisory board for Hands4Hope. They ensure youth voice leads the way when making decisions related to new volunteer and outreach opportunities. In addition, the Youth Board provides the means for youth leaders across schools to network and share information. Finally, the Youth Board selects a nonprofit to support with an annual fundraiser held each Spring. The Youth Board is composed of all presidents, vice presidents, chairs and vice chairs from each club and committee in the Hands4Hope Education Program. In total there are typically 24 youth who sit on the Youth Board. The Youth Board is led by the Youth Board Executive Committee which includes a President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and two Hands4Hope Interns- one for El Dorado Hills/Folsom and one for Placerville.
Written by Meghna Sehrwat, Hands4Hope Youth Board Treasurer and Camp Planner/Attendee
2020 Hands4Hope - Youth Making A Difference Youth Board Executive Committee pictured from left to right:
Treasurer Meghna Sehratwat (Vista Del Lago High School), Vice President Pavitra Dobraria (Oak Ridge High School); President Alyssa Countryman (Ponderosa High School),; El Dorado Hills & Folsom Intern Elise Taylor (Folsom High School),; Secretary Liv Craine (Oak Ridge High School), ; Placerville Intern Annabel Maguire (El Dorado High School) (not pictured). These leaders helped plan and facilitate the 2020 Hands4Hope Leadership Camps.
Warm & Fuzzies: Hands4Hope - Youth Making A Difference “Warm & Fuzzies” shared amongst the campers during their online session. At the Hands4Hope - Youth Making A Difference leadership camp, a Warm & Fuzzy Jar is usually provided for youth to write kind things about their fellow campers. This year, the majority of the camp was virtual, so the team created an on-line Warm & Fuzzy Wall.
Zoom Meeting: Our Hands4Hope - Youth Making A Difference leadership camp organizers were extremely creative putting together the 2020 camp using a hybrid model of one in-person, socially distanced camp day followed by two online days. It was appropriate to design the majority of the training on Zoom as the clubs and committees will generally have their meetings in this format throughout the current school year. Navigating and exploring Zoom features like breakout rooms and polls, gave campers the experience of meeting with those who shared similar strengths, those they would be working alongside, as well as new leaders from other schools they’d never met.
In-Person: Hands4Hope - Youth Making A Difference Leadership Camp attendees participate in a socially distanced team builder on day 1 of camp. The following two days, the campers continued to participate in virtual team building sessions A huge aspect of Hands4Hope - Youth Making A Difference is teamwork and communication, and the basis for this has been established at camp. School clubs and afterschool committees will continue to build off of this foundation throughout the year.