REFLECTIONS: Camp CommUNITY®
From learning how to combat prejudice, racism, and stereotypes to forging life-long friendships with other delegates and counselors, Camp CommUNITY showed me not only the value of being a true leader but also the importance in loving your neighbor unconditionally. When I think back to that week of living in a cabin, sharing a bathroom with 15 other girls, singing campfire songs, and sharing stories in my group section, I think the most telling line from the entire experience comes from an entry in my journal I read this week as I reflected back on those days from 10 years ago, “Everyone there accepted you for yourself and didn’t judge you; it was a great experience [...] for four days I didn’t have to do anything but be Erika.”
I know the impact Camp CommUNITY had on me was extremely powerful because my teachers would write about it in every college scholarship or letter of recommendation they wrote for me. I specifically never took for granted these words from a letter of recommendation written by my ninth grade honors English teacher about my experience, “Today Erika serves as an Ambassador of Goodwill, actively working to make our world a place of peace and harmony wherever she goes.” I will be eternally grateful to this teacher for encouraging me to attend Camp CommUNITY and for her continuing faith in me.
Although it has been over 10 years since I was a delegate at Camp CommUNITY, the lessons I learned then remain close to my heart today.
The very principles I learned at this camp are what we are fighting for today... No matter how many years pass, the lesson remains the same and is applicable to any and every issue—equality.
Erika Barrera | Camp CommUNITY Camper 2000, Counselor 2004
B.A. Journalism and Mass Communications, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 200607
Camp CommUNITY resides on a short list of life-changing experiences of my youth. And the things that didn't make that short list? The mission trips and church camps, ski trips and summer classes, debate camp and future business leaders of America retreats... that stuff somehow just blends together into one amalgamated memory of the past.
I can tell you why Camp CommUNITY gets the clarity while almost everything else--so many amazing experiences at the time--gets relegated to nonspecific obscurity. You might guess it stems from the fact that you only get one shot at Camp CommUNITY, but that isn't it at all. There were a lot of things I did just one time that I don't remember. No, the truth about this camp is simple: Camp CommUNITY changed me. Or, more accurately, the people that I met and the experiences that I had changed me. They compelled me to grow as a person in order to respond.
My life in Arlington was simple and pleasant. I had friends, church, school, the Parks mall, several movie theaters, Six Flags, Hurricane Harbor, and the Ballpark. There was nothing to question. And so I never learned to question. And that's dangerous. Because if we don't question we can't grow or understand new things, and we certainly won't want to change anything. Camp CommUNITY taught me to question.
It began with questions that stemmed directly from my experiences at camp. Questions about race and religion and values kept me awake at night. As I gradually worked through those topics in my mind, I stumbled upon new questions. Over time, I have mostly stumbled forward. I have occasionally rattled cages and made others uncomfortable. Overall, I would describe the outcome as astoundingly positive.
I don't believe that detailing my Camp CommUNITY experience to a future camper will provide you with much value; yours will differ substantially, and you may walk away with something completely different. But I would be willing to bet that in some way you too will be positively changed.
Kayne Burk | Camp CommUNITY Camper 1997
Bachelor of Arts, Plan II---University of Texas
BBA Business Honors and Man. Info Sys---University of Texas
Master of Business Administration---Stanford University
Camp CommUNITY is a place I will never forget. It’s funny – though I went in my teen years (which was ages ago in levels of maturity), I still find myself reminiscing about the unforgettable experience I had there. Maybe it’s because I refuse to get rid of my Camp CommUNITY t-shirt and occasionally run across it in the closet. Or, perhaps, it was a life-changing experience.
When I was asked to go to this unique camp at 15 years old, I had no idea what to expect. I just knew that my ninth grade English teacher, whom I deeply respected, touted on and on about this camp.
I started to bond with people I previously didn’t know, and it was a bond that I couldn’t explain. As the week went by, I learned about respect, leadership, love, friendship, sacrifice, integrity, confidence, and just about anything else one would wish for a teenager to grasp. But the thing is that these principles were instilled in me through practice, not just through lecture.
We all left Camp CommUNITY, but the bonds we built there kept calling to us. None of us could go a week without seeing everyone again. We met several times as a group, completely self-organized outside Camp CommUNITY, for months thereafter. Something special happened there.
Well it’s many years after Camp CommUNITY, and I still recall my experience there very fondly To this day, I still consider myself a pupil of integrity, service, and excellence, traits I hope I exemplify better today than years ago. I want to give my sincerest thanks to Camp CommUNITY, its staff, and my teacher who recruited me. I have no doubt the powerful experience I had there set me on the track not just to success, but more importantly, to a balanced, moral lifestyle.
Kris Merritt | Camp CommUNITY Camper 1985
Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering, US Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2002
Master of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix 2008
Master’s Degree in Cyber Operations at the Air Force Institute of Technology 2011
I had the privilege of attending Camp CommUNITY during the summer of my sophomore year in highs chool. The early high-school version of Rajiv Bhatia was kind, intellectually accomplished, worried about finding his first girlfriend, mum about his involvement in the Boy Scouts of America, and on a near-constant search - trying to find where he "fit" into the world. While I was a member of the newspaper staff and decently read, my Arlington, Texas upbringing had left me with only a partial view of the world in which I was preparing for, my sophomore year in high school.
I will not forget the pride I felt when I was first invited and encouraged by my friend and teacher to attend this unique summer camp. I was one of a select number of Tarrant County youth who was offered this coveted invitation, and my confidence soared when I saw that that she thought so highly of me. Through her encouragement, I signed on, and my experience during my Camp CommUNITY summer of 1994 provided me with a large number of “firsts.”
It was my first true exposure to what (to this day) is one of the best representations of the diversity of the real world. None of the usual socio-economic, ethnic or intellectual filters that had usually been applied to the groups I frequented existed here.
At camp, I was connected with the real youth of America, and we spoke about and attacked real-world issues: discrimination, opportunity, responsibility, conflict-resolution. The perspectives on these topics were amazing - from the urban-poor of Tarrant County to the children of rich doctors, this microcosm of the world was an invaluable place to learn about the world, and myself.
Which leads me to one of my most important “take-aways” from the camp. Each one of us has a story and a perspective - even me. I found that Camp CommUNITY was one of primary experiences that helped me get comfortable with who I was and where I was headed. After the camp and my following reflection, I found that I was less concerned with if I fit in at the REM concert or if I was part of the right crowd at school - I was more concerned about being a good citizen and really understanding the perspectives of the world around me.
I have carried these lessons around with me over the past 15+ years, and I feel it has made me a better person. It has helped me in both my professional and personal life. When I return to the workforce this summer, those Camp CommUNITY experiences will help me be a more conscientious and effective manager. As my daughter grows up, I'll be able to stress to her the important of self-confidence and respect for others.
I simply cannot say enough about the long-lasting value of this unique camp. Camp CommUNITY was a true turning point for me and played a hugely significant part in my growth and development from a boy to a man. For that I will always be grateful that I was given this amazing opportunity.
Rajiv Bhatia | Camp CommUNITY Camper 1994
Bachelor of Science, Computer Engineering, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Master of Science, Computer Engineering, University of Texas, Austin
MBA, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management
Before Camp CommUNITY, I closed myself off and didn't want to talk to people I didn't know. But on the first night, I knew I had developed friendships that would last a lifetime. Even if nobody you know is at Camp CommUNITY, it doesn't matter because you have the support of others, who are just like you in one way or another. Until this day Camp CommUNITY is the BEST experience I've ever had in my life. I cry every time I talk about it. Don't pass up the opportunity because it will touch your life forever and ever.
Iman Session-Brown | Camp CommUNITY Camper 2009
I went into the Camp CommUNITY experience with some slight hesitation and a lot of curiosity. Five days later, when being picked up to go home, I had tears in my eyes when my father met just some of the life-long friends I had made in the short but amazing amount of time I had been away. As we drove home, my dad kept asking me, “Tell me about what you did at camp. I want to know more about it.”
What did I do at camp? What did I learn? My mind spun around and around as it was filled with a myriad of thoughts. How could I possibly explain this unique and spectacular experience to him or to anyone?
I guess I would say that the single biggest thing about camp that was so moving and so meaningful was the fact that that all of these people I had gone to school with, people I would never in a million years have talked to on a daily basis, came to this camp as well as all of these complete strangers…well, it was kind of awkward at first but only for a very, very short time. We had an hour bus ride, and before we even got there, all that strangeness just went away. Imagine 60 teenagers of all different cultural, economic, and religious groups becoming incredibly close in 5 short days! Now that is something powerful.
I feel so very lucky that I came to Camp CommUNITY and learned all that I did. Not many people ever really learn these intangible things like we do at camp. Sure, I learned about other cultures and religions, I learned about stereotyping, I learned to celebrate differences and see the many, many similarities that all humans have. But at Camp, I learned so much more. I learned to open up myself to the world and experience a miracle. You see, when you open yourself up, so do other people.
Now that I am at home, all year I have noticed a huge difference. I am more open. I’ve made dozens of new friends. I now understand that all people are born to love, to bond, to be connected, and to share the planet for a reason. Camp CommUNITY gave rebirth to the good inside of all of us and to the courage to love. After Camp CommUNITY, I now live a more effective, more joyful, more peaceful life…a life of kindness and sharing and better understanding.
Shalma Movassaghi | Camp CommUNITY Camper, 2009
Martin High School Senior, 2010
Founder of the MHS Multicultural Alliance Club