About 20 years ago I felt a calling to create a place where teenagers could come and let go of some of their anxiety and feel safe and free – a retreat where they would be actively encouraged to share their gifts, rather than hide them. This calling came from my own life’s experiences.
I remember feeling plenty of anxiety when I became a teen. I hid most of my talents because I was afraid it would attract unwanted attention from the bullies at my school.
As a result of these fears, my personality and my world got smaller. As an adult, I began to understand the impact this retreat from my true self had on me.This awareness inspired me to create a place where kids would not have to hide who they truly are. As a teen, I often felt the world was unsafe, I wanted to create a camp where teenagers would feel safe, accepted, included and loved. This is what Odyssey Teen Camp is all about.
A few years ago I got a call from an anxious mom about a potential camper. She explained that her fifteen-year-old wanted to try going to sleep-away camp, but was incredibly anxious and scared.
She mentioned he was “twice exceptional.” At that time, I didn’t know anything about twice exceptionality. As she described her son’s challenges, I recognized that his anxieties and needs were similar to what many of our campers experienced, including those who became our most engaged and successful campers!
Her son joined us that summer. Like many of our teens, he was emotionally intense, sometimes very shy, and plenty anxious. He was also funny, super creative, kind, and very interesting.
As with many of our campers, he spent a lot of time alone throughout the school year but that summer at camp, he was able to embrace his true self, make a camp-full of friends, get up on stage for several performances, and so much more.
While he was with us, he naturally built social skills, and became a real leader. It wasn’t all s’mores and sunshine, but through the accepting, loving and patient approach of our staff, he learned how strong and resilient he could be. This year he’s returning for his fourth and final year at OTC.
I could share so many stories of how anxious and fearful kids like him came to camp feeling shy, scared and insecure only to become stars at our talent shows, our comedy improv classes, and Masters of our Dungeons and Dragons games (if that is such a thing.)
When I think of some of the teenagers who come to camp who fit the 2E description, the things that stand out most to me are their sense of fun, enthusiasm for the things they love and their incredible humor. To me and many of the people at camp, that enthusiasm and humor is contagious. You never know what these teens are going to come up with and while I don’t get all the jokes, the intelligence and originality they put into whatever they do makes me want to be part of it.
We welcome and embrace the strengths and fun 2E kids bring to Odyssey Teen Camp. As 2e parents know, their teens can be emotionally intense, and sometimes a handful. In the end, though, they are a wonderful gift to our camp. After a few days at camp they realize they are in a safe place where they will not be bullied or judged. We begin to see their creativity and unique personalities emerge as they are encouraged and celebrated to be exactly who they are. When they realize they are safe, they can really shine.