The second Next Step Summer Campference, Face Forward, has a special place in my heart (each community does to be fair). I’m a card-carrying member of this community. We are a motley bunch of people. FaceForward had the magical experience of being one in a community. To some of the people at Campference, they are the only ones in their town, city, state, etc. with their specific diagnosis. They might still be the only one at Campference with that diagnosis, but at Campference, they are part of a community. They get the opportunity to be with people around their age that are living similar experiences. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced year after year.
That first Thursday night at the Warren Conference Center & Inn, was started with some caution and hesitancy as everyone trickled in from wherever they were coming from. Some veteran young people were quick to do some outreach and make everyone feel welcome. By the first of many late night “hangs” everyone seemed to be much more relaxed and fell into a rhythm with each other. Everyone was engaged in a card game, art, or an epic set up for some Nintendo Switch.
Friday started off without a hitch. Everyone enjoyed their pancake breakfast and at our first workshop teams were decided! There was team “Sleep”, “Ducking Awesome”, and “Awesome Opossum.” The morning focus was our “Wheel of Health!” in which each color on the wheel represented one of 4 different health categories: physical, professional, relationship, and mindset.
Each team got to spin the wheel and choose either an initiative/challenge or song completion. “Ducking Awesome” crushed the competition.
The afternoon was more focused on some really important “adulting” thing: health insurance. Jodi lead an awesome workshop/game all about the different types of health private insurance and how to navigate the system better. It got a bit stressful as real-life navigating of insurance does, but with the help and support of the community everyone started to feel better.
We let out some of our feelings during the first jam session. The place was filled with amazing noise!
Our final workshop of the evening was crafting our community bracelets. We came together to put the love, hard work, and community good vibes into each bracelet. It serves as an outside reminder of the positive feels and support that are at Campference and within ourselves.
We had a bit of mayhem and relaxation on Friday evening. Young people were split into 2 groups and either did an escape room designed and facilitated by Jodi or went and had a “spa” experience with Casey and Justin. Each group got to then switch to the other activity. It was noted that it was nice to do the escape room and follow it up with the spa time. Relax the stress away.
Saturday morning we got to flex our creative and imaginative muscles. Did some really fun games and told a few One Word stories to warm up. We brought back the diorama work from the previous day and wanted to act out scenes. We decided to show how to talk to our inner selves when the outside world is ever-present.
In the afternoon we discussed self-advocacy, and how this can be put into practice at school, at work, or anywhere that our needs aren’t being met. Finally, we danced, sang, and story told the night away at our Stage Night. The Stage Night featured our extraordinarily talented young people, and the community song we created, as well as our Campference theme song titled “Face Forward Love” that has been stuck in everybody’s heads since (not that we’re complaining).
On Sunday, we reflected on everything we were going to take away with us from Campference: the knowledge and skills we acquired, the fun memories we made, all of our new friends, and of course the many, many “Warm and Fuzzies”. You could feel the love and support in the room as the community came together for “The Final Quack”.