The summer camp that'll change the world, now accepting applications

Thumbs up to kids making a difference! Young activists at YEA Camp 2010

Kids. Activist. Summer. Camp. The words kind of send shivers down our Never-Never Land synapses. And though we're not exactly the target demographic for the Santa Cruz Mountains' Youth Empowered Action Camp, breathless longtime camp professional Nora Kramer's three year old vision of a place where socially conscious rockstars ages 12 to 17 could get together, hike it out, eat delicious vegan foods, and work on their plan to change the world has us all riled up in a yeah-that-exactly way. 

The first California -- there's also a session in our northernly neighbor Oregon -- camp session starts real soon (July 23) and Kramer wants everyone to know that scholarships for young Julia Butterfly Hills and Van Joneses -- wherever they're at in their activist skills and projects -- are available. Know a parent or a kidlet? Forward them this interview, which single-handedly put Kramer and her team way, way up there on our "people who are really awesome" list.

San Francisco Bay Guardian: Tell me the story of how the camp started? When, where, who, all that.

Nora Kramer: I started YEA Camp in April 2009 after years of thinking “I want to start a camp one day for kids who want to change the world.” I couldn’t find a program quite like the one I wanted to work at -- one that trained young people to be effective in taking action for what they believe in and care about. I was teaching environmental education and, with the economy really tanking, I was laid off. On my last day with the middle school club I advised, they asked me what I was going to do next. I wanted to reassure them that I’d be OK, so I nervously told them that someday I was planning on starting a camp for kids who want to change the world. They were so excited about it and asked me when the camp would start! In that moment, I knew I was ready to launch the program, and that there was a demand for this, and I said “August!” 

I had already done an intensive training with the American Camp Association and worked as a camp director. I had a friend design our website pro-bono, and we had our pilot program in summer 2009. I hired incredible staff who all worked for free and we had amazing campers, most on almost full scholarships, as we were an unproven program people had never heard of. I contacted a beautiful venue I had been to with another youth program and found a time it was available, and I paid the deposit on it out of my savings account, hoping to recoup it once kids registered. That session was a total success, and we’re now up to summer No. 3.

Tomorrow's leaders gettin' crazy at YEA Camp 2010. Photo by Cody Cha

SFBG: What's a typical day at the camp?

NK: We get up and have French toast or pancakes prepared by our talented cooks. We make music or do some other group activity to wake up. Then we head off to a hike or fun outdoor activity. When we come back, we do a workshop about an issue or practice a skill to bring about change on any issue, like how to start a club at school. We have a snack, like fruit or chips and salsa, and might play a group game that demonstrates a concept we are working on. We watch a movie about young activists who are doing amazing work right now and discuss their leadership qualities and what made them successful. Then we have lunch -- maybe vegetarian BLTs or burritos -- and then we have free time after that. Our afternoon workshops would be another skill or knowledge-building activity such as how to run a successful campaign (for example how to get recycle bins at your school), a group game, and discussion. We have amazing dinners -- pizza or sushi with brownies or chocolate chip cookies for dessert. All of our food is vegan, mostly organic, and all delicious. We cap the day off with a fun group evening activity like a scavenger hunt, dance party, or night hike.


SFBG: Why did you think it was important for a camp like this to exist?

NK: I had been doing grassroots activism for a long time, and had worked with youth at camps, after-school programs, and teaching high school, and I met a lot of young people who were passionate about making the world a better place in some way--whether by rescuing an animal, recycling religiously, being part of their Gay Straight Alliance at school, or being a vegetarian. I started to notice they didn’t necessarily have any training or support or role models to nurture their involvement. There’s coaches and after-school practice to help you get better at sports, but what about to train you to make a difference in your community? 

Sometimes kids who care or speak up about environmental or other issues are made fun of or criticized and get discouraged. I feel like our world is facing so many challenges, and we need to bring youth together with like-minded peers and adults to support them in taking action so they can bring about the world they want to see. If there can be successful summer camps for kids who like volleyball or theater or play the violin, why not for youth who want to make the world a better place?


SFBG: Where did you go to learn about activism as a youth? Where do you think most kids go today?

NK: I was not by any stretch a youth activist. When I was a teenager, I had no idea what activism was. I had a vague sense that there was some injustice in the world -- I grew up in New York City, where I saw incredible wealth not far from people sleeping on the streets. But while I had progressive parents who taught me to question things and think for myself, I wasn’t really aware of a lot of social problems until college, and had no sense that I had any power to make a difference. Today, youth have far greater access to information -- it’s no comparison -- thanks in large part to the Internet and technology. Kids today reach out to organizations online, watch videos on Youtube, and might join a school club or get involved with a local youth program. But I honestly think a lot of youth don’t get or stay involved because there is not enough support. 

Silly, silly changemakers. Photo by Ivan Olsen

SFBG: Is it easier today to learn about this stuff than when we were growing up?

NK: Absolutely. I grew up pre-Internet, which was a whole different world. Technology like Yahoogroups and Googlegroups, blogs and vlogs, e-newsletters, Youtube, Facebook causes, Twitter, and so much more make it more possible than ever to access information, connect with others who are like-minded, and advocate for important causes. Most organizations have multiple websites devoted to different issues they are working on. Ironically and unfortunately, this can also lead people to feel like they are on information overload, overwhelmed, alone and helpless to take action in the face of such large issues. 


SFBG: Surely your campers are all the offspring of super activists already -- or have you ever had a camper whose parents weren't super stoked on the idea of camp?

NK: It totally varies. A lot of our kids’ parents are very progressive and politically aware and active; others aren’t but they want their kids to be happy and go to whatever camp they want. Often we have parents contact us and say “This is so perfect for my son! He started an environmental club at his school and doesn’t know anybody else who cares about these issues as much as he does!” They are relieved to find a program that speaks directly to their child’s interest and passion, whether or not it’s shared by the parent.

Thumb hug. Photo by Mike Melero

SFBG: What are some of the awesome projects that have come out of the camp?

NK: So many cool things! Campers have organized a beach cleanup, created a music video about youth empowerment, started several school clubs, raised over $1000 for a local animal shelter, interned at a nonprofit, gotten vegetarian options in their school cafeteria, organized a call-in to Congress, and lots more. There’s also the daily actions, like campers bringing water bottles with them, buying less stuff, eating healthier, or using communication skills they learned at camp to speak more effectively about their issue and influence people at school to get involved. Two campers also organized a benefit concert and a fundraising dinner to pay for their tuition to return to camp this year!


SFBG: What's the hardest part about running a camp like this?

NK: I think it’s staying present to how amazing the camp is in, say, February, when last year’s camp seems like a long time ago and next summer’s camp seems like a long ways away. It makes doing work throughout the year tougher to keep in context. I think also going beyond my own comfort zone and skill set to learn more and build the team has been a great but challenging experience for me. Working at a start-up non-profit poses challenges, but every time I read an amazing camper application, I feel so proud and honored to do what I do.



Youth Empowered Action Camp

Session I: July 23-29, $925 without scholarship

Session II: July 30-August 5, $925 without scholarship

Quaker Center, Ben Lomond Calif.

(415) 710-7351



Main reason behind this organizing this type of summer camps are only to offer unforgettable memories through this full adventitious camp with by providing appropriate platform for both study and entertaining environment .I was just praised your wonderful imaginative program that might be helping the associated students.olavie

Posted by olavie on Dec. 08, 2011 @ 1:50 am

I have not attended this camp, nor do I have kids, but I do know Nora Kramer, the camp's founder and director. Nora is an incredibly passionate, smart, fun woman who has dedicated her life to changing the world for the better and bringing people together to do it. I have no doubt that anything she produces will be a valuable, worthwhile experience for the participants.

I encourage any parent who is considering sending their child to YEA Camp to do it!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 13, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

My daughter (then 12) attended this camp last year and it was a life-changing experience for her. An activist practically since birth, this was the first time she' d met other kids who cared as much about living their values as she did. She came home telling us that she felt as though she'd finally met people like herself. She's returning this year to gain more skills and allies, and she can hardly wait!

Posted by Lisa M. Feldstein on Jul. 12, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

I attended YEA Camp last summer and it was the best week of my life! Campers and staff are so compassionate, understanding, and supportive. The entire time I felt like I truly belonged there and it was so hard to leave at the end of the week. I still keep in touch with some of the counselors and campers from my session from time to time.

It inspired me to do so much more than just say I was going to make a difference. This camp gave me the confidence to start an animal rights club at my school, which has actually been pretty successful. I recommend this camp to all teens who want to make a difference because trust me, YOU WILL!

Posted by Bianca on Jul. 10, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

As a youth worker I have interacted with so many strong and brilliant youth over the past decade in schools and shelters/ residential programs. Often I find myself pouring energy into helping these young people remember that they are powerful, important and brave...something they don't often hear from adults or peers. I love the idea of a camp that is working to instill this type of confidence and community in youth who are committed to creating change in the world. It provides me with hope knowing these youth are finding and creating the support they need to keep fighting for social justice and empowered youth communities. I look forward to the day when there is a YEA Camp in every city!

Posted by JM on Jul. 08, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

My daughter attended YEA camp in Oregon last summer and is going back again this summer! She had a great time, met some great people and is a more confident person. My daughter has become more involved in making a difference in the community after attending YEA. Such a great camp and how amazing to have a camp to go to where we don't have to worry how she will eat (we are vegan).

Posted by Guest jen on Jul. 08, 2011 @ 8:08 pm

First of all, thanks for this awesome piece, SFBG!

No trolls here - we/YEA Camp posted this article on our Facebook, and we are excited to read such lovely comments from our campers, parents, and friends/fans.

Looking forward to YEA Camp 2011!

And if you know any youth who might be interested, it's not too late to apply, as we have some spots available for each session, as well as some scholarships available as well.

Posted by Nora Kramer on Jul. 08, 2011 @ 9:57 am

I can't wait for my kids to be old enough to go. Great idea!

Posted by Ted Ernst on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 9:00 pm

"Perfect for my niece!"
"Totally gonna forward this to someone I know!!"

And whomever is writing them should know it's embarrassingly obvious. You sound like a crazy person.

Posted by Lucretia "Secretia" Snapples on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 8:35 pm

Troll Alert "95% of these comments are saying the same thing:"

Posted by vigilante on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 9:18 pm

I only know one young person who attended this conference and I've never heard such glowing reviews as I heard from him. He's not the most outgoing kid, but he was moved and inspired from day one!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 8:06 pm

I only know one young person who attended this conference and I've never heard such glowing reviews as I heard from him. He's not the most outgoing kid, but he was moved and inspired from day one!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 8:05 pm

I only know one young person who has attended this camp and I have to say I've never heard such glowing reviews as I've heard from him. He's not the most outgoing kid, but from day one of YEA camp, he was moved and inspired. In fact, at some point he got sick and needed his parents to take him to the emergency room. They figured after he was checked out, they'd take him home. He wouldn't have it. He insisted on getting back to camp.

When I was young, I went to an amazing camp called The Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Conference. It changed my life. It continues to impact me to this day and I remain forever grateful.

I'm thrilled tha the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Conference still exists and I'm thrilled that YEA has come into the picture and that more kids will get a life changing and inspiring experience. The world will be a better place. I'll be sure to spread the word about YEA.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 8:02 pm

I only know one young person who went through YEA camp and I have to say I've never heard such glowing reviews as I heard from him. He's not the most outgoing kid but he was inspired from day one and he got to meet other amazing kids who are changing the world in so many different ways. Basically, his whole world was opened up. In fact, at some point during the camp he got sick and needed to call his parents to go to the hospital and after the hospital visit they thought they'd just take him home, but he insisted on getting back to the camp. He loved every minute of it.

When I was growing up I had an amazing summer camp experience at the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Conference. That experience transformed my life and I remain ever grateful.

From what I've heard of YEA, it's another meaningful camp experience that will impact these kids the rest of their lives. I'm thrilled that a camp like YEA exists so that more young people can get a dose of inspiration.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 7:56 pm

I continue to be incredibly amazed and inspired by the motivation and energy of generation Z activists. I honestly believe they will be the voice of a new, better society, just as youth activists were in Egypt.

I have recently published a young adult novel THE BATTLE FOR TOMORROW: A FABLE as a tribute to generation Z activists. It concerns a 16 year old girl who is arrested for participating in the blockade and occupation of the US

Posted by Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 7:24 pm

Wow this camp looks amazing! I wish there was something like this when I was a kid and wanted to save the whales. Amazing. I'll pass it around to my friends who have kids.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

It's so cool that YEA Camp offers scholarships too!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

Laura rock girl!

Posted by Neville on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

Thanks for this article. I'm forwarding it to my friends who work with Streetside Stories in the Mission. I think the kids there would be inspired, too.

Posted by Abby on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

I am so glad to see someone has created this much needed camp. This is EXACTLY what I would have wanted as a teenager!

Posted by Alissa on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

I am so happy to hear that there is such an amazing camp out there for kids! This is a great opportunity for the youngsters growing up in this day and age. The camp also gives promise for the future of this world ~

Posted by Christine Garcia on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 2:10 pm

I love seeing projects like this that are from the heart and that touch the heart. This work is about making a positive difference in the world, in a way that is so inspiring. I think each individual that participates is changed and makes change for the better possible. Great job!

Posted by ks on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

I went here last summer and it was a mind-blowing experience. If you have any tinge of wanting to go, go. Ignore any doubt. You'll be very glad that you did.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 1:45 pm

Congratulations Nora on your accomplishment! I wish I was a teenager so I could go to the camp!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

When was this started? 2009? That's pretty impressive. They really seem to have it together.

Posted by dw on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 1:38 pm

So amazing to hear about the success of the camp and the impact it's making on young activists and how it's contributing to the movement!

I will definitely share this.

Thanks for doing this great interview and article.

Posted by Eve Libertone on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

Nora is a great animal advocate and person- if I had children I would certainly send them to this camp to be inspired into making change for our world.

Posted by shani on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

Wow! I am totally inspired and amazed to see the success of this summer camp! What a huge contribution to the movement and to young activists development.

I am interested in a similar project so it's so wonderful to see what else is happening out there!

Thanks for this great article.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

This sounds so much cooler than the band camps my mom used to send me to!

Posted by EG on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

This camp sounds like it's going to kick ass. Nora is an inspiration!

Posted by dw on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

I attended this camp, and had such an amazing time! It is a really great and rewarding experience!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

I participated in the Oregon one last year as a staff and it was amazing to see the transformation the youth had over the 7 days. Thank you for bringing this to Oregon Nora!

Posted by Guest Letty on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

A truly amazing experience. Enlightenment to the utmost degree.

Posted by Thomas on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

This looks amazing! I wish all kids could go to this camp!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 12:50 pm

Sign up sign up sign upp

Posted by Thomas on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

This was a amazing article! Sounds like a beautiful camp, I love all the ideas, and that it's Vegan! Even better, I want to hear more :)

Posted by WOW! on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

This was the best camp my 15 yr old son ever attended. It has changed him and he has grown so much this year. The kids from this camp are amazing and my son has made lifelong friends. SEND YOUR TEEN to this camp - they will love it !

Posted by Guest rebecca on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

I love this idea and I know a few kids who this would be perfect for, including my niece.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

Awesome camp! this is perfect for my niece!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 12:33 pm

Wow, what an amazing camp! i am totally gonna forward this along! someone i know, must know someone with kids, right?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 11:53 am