The third-annual Illinois Safe Schools Alliance ( ISSA ) Action Camp, running July 14-17, is the largest ever, and promises to once again be an emotional event for teens and counselors alike.
The four-day sleepover camp attracted 30 teens for the inaugural event and 50 last year. There are 63 registered this year, with students from ISSA's network of about 200 gay-straight alliances ( GSA ) in high schools across the state. A large percent of the 63 students are from the Chicagoland area. There also are students attending from Danville, Bloomington-Normal, Champaign and elsewhere in Illinois.
"The first two [action camps] went very well, and [the event] has grown every year. We think this year's event will be as good, or better, than any," of the previous two, said Lawrence Carter, who has worked for the ISSA for about four years and has been the LGBT youth engagement manager for about six months.
Carter36, who is openly gay and has been partnered for 11 years to Jonathan Mayohas attended each of the past action camps.
Regarding the programming for the 2015 action camp, Carter said, "we're taking a stronger look at how race, class and privilege play into working in our gay-straight alliances. That will be the focus this year."
There are three major workshops on those topics planned, he said.
"It will be very emotional, especially with some of the topics we're going to be discussing this year," Carter said. "But what we want the young people to come out [of camp] with is, a skill set and knowledge of how things play into our everyday lives. And then hopefully all of that will feed into how the [ISSA] is going to re-organize its youth programming and how we do things.
"Over the next year, we're looking at creating this committee of young people, with about 200-300 from across the state, and it will help guide the organization on how we do our policy work, how we do our professional development … we really want it to be youth-led."
Part of this year's Action Camp will discuss stereotypes, policy and trans-inclusion.
Action Camp registration opens annually in February.
There also will be a new counselor-in-training program this year, Carter said, geared for recent high school graduates.
"All of the work we're doing at camp this year is going to help the organization over the next school year, helping how we do youth reorganization; it also will help the young people figure out how they can fit into that picture," he said.
Carter said one of his fondest memories from the past camps is listening to the students at the end of the event, to hear when they learned, what they learned about themselvesand then watch them put into play at their schools what they learned at action camp. "That's always a highlight," he said.