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Empowering Youth + Smiles: Brave Trails

Empowering Youth + Smiles: Brave Trails

. Brooklyn Benjestorf

TomboyX is going to summer camp! This summer, our co-founder and CEO, Fran Dunaway, will be speaking to an amazing group of kids at Brave Trails, a leadership and activism focused summer camp for LGBTQ youth.

Five years ago, Jessica Weissbuch and her wife, Kayla, pioneered the Brave Trails concept. Summer camp was a formative experience for Kayla when she was young, and would walk by the camp director’s house growing up and think that’s going to be me someday. Jessica grew up with youth group, which in many ways was a lot like camp, and always had a passion for working with kids. While she was in her graduate program for marriage and family therapy, she found herself drawn specifically to working with queer youth in leadership. Through Brave Trails, the couple connected the dots between their two passions and developed a summer camp that seeks to help campers “grow into the brave leaders they’re destined to be.”

To help us better understand the Brave Trails program, Jessica spoke with us about why queer youth leadership is important, how to infuse ideas for action into camp activities, and what activism means to her.

How did you get the idea for Brave Trails?

Like all “good” activists, Kayla and I were driving home from the movies wondering what we wanted to do with our lives. We started to talk about our passions in life—mine being queer youth leadership and Kayla’s being summer camp. We thought about what it would mean to combine both of our loves, and that’s how Brave Trails started. After we came up with the idea, we talked to a lot of our friends about it and they all were so supportive that we felt we had to move forward with it. We held our very first fundraiser in our backyard and made homemade spaghetti and charged our friends to eat with us to raise money.

Camp Brave Trails

Tell us a little about the program—how does one go about infusing activism into camp activities like archery?

Our program focuses on four key elements: leadership, community building, self-realization, and service. We use workshops, adventure and artistic programming, service projects, peer connections, and positive role models to create a safe space where youth can thrive.

We have very intentional leadership programming including workshops that are held every day and help our campers grow as leaders in the more traditional way. However, we believe in a holistic approach and offer workshops on things like yoga, dance, archery, and self-love. The way we infuse leadership and activism into programs like archery is by being very intentional about how we teach it and incorporate conversations on how doing certain activities can be translated into leadership in their communities.  

With the skills learned at camp, our campers will be primed to thrive in their schools, workplace, and personal life. In addition, our campers will have the knowledge and confidence to be more impactful leaders and implement innovative social change in their communities.

How does youth leadership training in the LGBTQ context differ from other forms of youth leadership training?

There are many places where queer youth are able to get therapeutic support, but not a lot of spaces where they can just be kids. Many of our campers live all over the country and world and might not come from the most supportive areas. They often have to be on the defense about their identity and sometimes even feel physically threatened. Brave Trails was created to give these kids the chance to focus on themselves fully and not have to look over their shoulder or worry about being judged or bullied because of who they are. This is one way that we’re different than other youth leadership programs. Also, our workshops are not only focused on the traditional hard skills of leadership, but also on queer-specific topics such as queer history, how to create an LGBTQ club at their school, and identity.  

What are some of your personal favorite camp activities? 

Our workshops (I’m in charge of finding them), swimming, and our amazing evening programs. One that sticks out is our life-size Hungry Hungry Hippos!

Camp Brave Trails

Why do you think spaces like Brave Trails are important?

It gives these youth a safe space to be themselves. It provides role models for LGBTQ youth—some of our campers have never been around an adult LGBTQ person before. And it gives them an amazing community of friends.

What does activism mean to you?

Wow, this is a big question! Activism means taking action. It can be a small action, such as telling your personal story to create awareness or a huge action like lobbying for gender-neutral bathrooms in a school district (both of these our campers have done).

In one word, what do you hope your campers bring home with them from Brave Trails?

Inspiration.

• • • 

You can learn more about Brave Trails on their website or Facebook page. The program is always looking for donors and volunteers, so if queer youth leadership is important to you, there are lots of ways you can help.

What does activism mean to you? Let us know in the comments below!


Brooklyn Benjestorf

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