Teen Leadership Institute

Community building, leadership development and outdoor adventures


July 11 – August 4, 2024
The adventures begins in Portland, Oregon and ends at Tawonga!


Rising 11th graders (current 10th graders)


Program Overview

Teen Leadership Institute (TLI) is a Tawonga adventure like no other, bringing the mission of Camp Tawonga to life while exploring what it means to be a leader, build community, and contribute to the world around them. Teens will spend two weeks traveling from Portland, Oregon to the Sierra Mountains, culminating with a fun week on site at Camp Tawonga. Whether a seasoned Tawongan or brand new to our community, this program will create lifelong friendships, memories, and skills in beautiful settings along the Northwest and Sierras.

Check out a week by week breakdown below!

Three teens smiling at Teen Leadership program
Teens posing for a group photo at Teen Leadership program

More Details About the Program

Our work together in the TLI program is collaborative, inspiring and challenging. Participants should be ready to push themselves, both physically and intellectually, to get the most out of the program. While every day is a new adventure, participants can count on each day including leadership development, thoughtful conversations, and community building.

Over the majority of the program, participants will get to stay in college dorms including but not limited to Portland State University, Oregon State University – Cascades, and Sacramento State University. This is a perfect opportunity for rising 11th graders to experience what college living might be like.

Week One: Portland
Teens Fly into Portland on Thursday, July 11th

This week focuses on building our traveling community with four days of hands-on service projects, art and food tours of Portland, song sessions in the park and creating our own teen-led Shabbat.

Week Two: Eastern Oregon to Central California
Drive South, adventures along the way

This is our week of travel and adventure, engaging in outdoor thrills including mountain biking, rock climbing, waterslides, and a two-day white water rafting adventure with a night of camping under the stars!

Week Three: Tawonga
Arrive at Tawonga!

TLI comes home and gets to stay in our new Teen Village! Along with Tawonga classics like Gnarly, Arts and Crafts, Challenge Course, Shabbat and time at the Tuolumne River, participants will learn about the land of Tawonga from Miwok teachers and spend time supporting Tawonga with land stewardship and service projects.

Teens posing for a group photo at Teen Leadership program

2023 TLI FAQs

Why is TLI a travel program and only at Camp Tawonga for one week?

Teen Leadership Institute (TLI) is a bridge between the traditional Tawonga camper experience and 12th grade staff in-training program. We have found that a rising 11th grade program positioned solely at Camp is not sufficiently differentiated from the camper experience. This unique program enables teens to take the Tawonga mission on the road and then return to Camp to give back as leaders. Tawonga’s values are infused into TLI from the first moment of the program until campers get on the bus to head home. The format of TLI differentiates more fully between the camper experience, when the mission is being created for campers by staff, and the SCIT experience, where teens help create the mission for campers.

How is this program different from a quest?

This program is geared toward older teens and combines elements of travel, adventure and leadership. While the travel component of TLI looks similar to a quest because it’s on the road for the first two weeks, it also includes extensive service projects with meaningful impact, leadership training, and outdoor adventures. This format is more similar to how we have successfully done teen programs, historically, through our Teen Service Learning model.

Does my teen need to complete an application to participate in TLI?

While there is no application for TLI, teens who register will be asked to complete a short writing assignment that ensures that they understand and are enthusiastic about the expectations and rigor of the program. fill out registration form Teens and an adult from their household will also be required to attend a virtual Town Hall in May.

What does an average day look like?

For the first two weeks we will be staying in college dorms, eating breakfasts and dinners in the university dining halls, and having evening social time in a communal meeting space.  Most days will be scheduled from 9AM – 3PM with either Tawonga-led programs, service projects, or outdoor adventures with professional outfitters. Later afternoons typically include two hours of “float” time for showers, rest, optional activities, and just hanging out. After dinner we will gather in our traveling cabin groups, called “havurah“. The final week at Camp will very much resemble the usual Tawonga schedule of two programmatic blocks after each meal.

Is there an opportunity to gain service hours through participation in TLI?

Yes, TLI campers will complete between 15-20 service hours over the course of TLI. Tawonga is happy to provide documentation of the completion of those hours at the close of the program.

How will Tawonga accommodate all genders?

We will consider all gender lodging options, based on interest. Some lodging for teen programs will be all gender for all teens, such as our group campgrounds with close adult supervision.

Will Tawonga maintain the tech-free policy during TLI?

Yes. The program will be tech-free. No cell phones, internet, or screens will be allowed during this program.

How will staff oversight work for this program? How will you create and maintain behavior expectations?

We will have amazing and experienced staff leading this program! They will travel with the teens and live with them in community over the three weeks they are together, and will be in regular communication with our at-camp directors. The staff will receive additional training on teen mental health, building community and the leadership curriculum. The staff will do daily check-ins with the teens and have close supervision of the group.

Teens will be expected to sign a behavior agreement prior to participating in TLI, and all teens and their families will be required to attend a Town Hall prior to the program that will outline behavior expectations and consequences. During the first week of the program, we will engage in community and individual expectation setting. Once expectations are set, we will expect teens to fully uphold our community agreements, and will follow strict behavior guidelines and consequences in response to behavior outside of our agreements.

How will teens access the Rainbow Lounge (therapist support) while on the road?

Campers will have the opportunity to have one to two phone calls with a camp therapist or their own at-home therapist while on the road. The Rainbow Lounge will also be available to teens, once they arrive at Camp for the last eight days of the program. If a teen needs an exception for more regular support, we can consider this in an individual conversation with your family. The staff traveling with the teens will have training in teen mental health and skills to support on a day to day basis.

How will the group travel?

Teens will be on a group flight, accompanied by Tawonga staff, from the Bay Area to Portland. In Portland we will get around in rented vans. From Portland to Tawonga our group will travel in a 56-passenger motor coach, much like the buses we take to Tawonga each session.

What are TLI accommodations?

Lodging for the TLI teens and staff will be a combination college dorms, one to three nights of camping, and the final week in our new Teen Village cabins.

Will there be a backpacking trip during TLI?

No. Teens will have many other fun outdoor adventures but there is not a backpacking component of this program.

Teen Testimonials

I love Tawonga and loved being a camper, and this program was the perfect next step.Aliza Louis

TLI was an amazing, eye-opening experience that I’m so glad I applied for. It was so educational and super fun at the same time.Mariah Fisher

I loved being able to give back to the place I love so much.Puck Hartsough

I will recommend TLI to everyone who is a year younger than me. Literally everyone.Travis (Eli) Lane

This was a fantastic experience that made me realize how much I want to keep returning to Camp T.Jeremiah Haumeder

Check Out TLI on the Blog

Read how TLI teens gave back to Tawonga by “tikkuning” (repairing) an area of Camp called the Freedom Forest.


Please contact Assistant Director of Teen Programs and Specialty Areas, Brady Gill if you have questions about the program: brady@tawonga.org or 415.543.2267.

Camp Tawonga is grateful to the supporters of our Teen Programs:

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