Our Teen Leadership Institute (TLI) program for rising 11th graders got a major refresh this season. Whereas in prior years, these teens spent three weeks in Camp, including working on a service learning project to give back to Tawonga – this year – while still focused on community building and leadership development – they set their sights north for an adventure.
Check out the below behind the scenes peek into our TLI program thus far!
By: Allie Simon, Assistant Director
Let’s take a look back and see what TLI has been up to! We met at SFO bright and early on Sunday, July 9th and flew into Portland, Oregon, home to our service project organization, Tivnu. Next up, we spent the first day settling in and getting to know each other. As a group of 47 teens and 8 staff, it took us a few rounds of name games to get all the names down!
During our first full day we joined classic Tawonga rotations at a park nearby. We learned about how to be a thoughtful and conscientious member of our teen program by discussing topics like gender, race, privilege and advocacy.
By Tuesday and Wednesday we were ready to head out into Portland and start being of service! At Dignity Village, the nation’s only city sanctioned, self supported and governed houseless encampment, our campers spent the better part of their day at service projects, which have included: weeding and planting at a regenerative farm, creating planters and beautifying a new transitional housing tiny home development that is otherwise a stark parking lot, and cutting back trees and branches for Hazelnut Grove, another long standing transitional housing neighborhood in outer Portland.
“Teens had an opportunity to learn about different life perspectives, work hand in hand with a variety of communities and grew as leaders through the lens of service and activism all while bonding as a group through adventure activities and representing Tawonga on the road,” said TLI staff member Xavier A.
Mixed into all the service, we had some fun exploring the city and continuing to get to know each other as a group. We took Tawonga to Oregon and had “floats” at the dorm’s rec center, and enjoyed not one but two(!!) surprise concerts from the amazing Handmade Moments and John Cragie. We also took some town time where we ventured off in groups and explored the city, including Powell’s bookstore.
“I think it’s great that TLI was able to keep all the camp essentials even on the road. We still had camp traditions and unlocked the freedom to explore and learned more about ourselves as teens,” said TLI camper Benjamin R.
During our last day in Portland, we went to two museums: the Japanese American Museum of Oregon and the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. During these visits, we engaged in conversations about social justice and activism and how to be an upstander in our communities.
The next day we hit the road again but this time on our way to rafting! We had an amazing two day rafting trip and covered nearly 40 miles of the Deschutes river. We paddled hard through rapid after rapid and took some float breaks in the calmer water to cool off in the 100 degree heat! We spent the night under the stars, which reminded us all of being back at Tawonga.
Once our rafts pulled into the shoreline, we hopped on the bus and made our way to Bend for the next portion of the trip.
In Bend, we split up and over the course of two days went mountain biking and rock climbing. Our mountain bikers had the option of mild, medium or “spicy” paths, and everyone had a blast. Our rock climbers learned to belay each other and support their friends as they scaled the beautiful mountain in Smith Rock. Rock climbers earned a special ice cream treat after all that effort. Our groups switched the next day so everyone could try both activities.
The next day we woke up bright and early and headed down to Sacramento. Our eight hour bus ride allowed for us to sing songs, watch movies and chat about our favorite parts of the trip. We watched the Matrix in the morning and ended with Twilight after stopping for In-N-Out at a local park.
We finally made it to Sacramento State to get some rest, which we needed before heading to an awesome water park to enjoy a fun afternoon while beating the heat.
With butterflies in our bellies we went to sleep to get ready to drive to Camp the next day!! We stopped in Groveland for burritos and made it to Camp just in time for Shabbat.
This group brought so much ruach (spirit) into Tawonga! We wowed the entire dining pavilion with our booming cheer about TLI we had been practicing, followed by showing the campers how to bring the energy to Freilach (Shabbat song session).
“I like having the maturity to appreciate and be more grateful for everything we have here at Camp. I’ve enjoyed the activities, forming deeper connections with people and running into old staff who helped me become who I am today,” said TLI camper Talia S.
After a rejuvenating Saturday we were ready to jump back into Camp activities. Sunday we spent the day at the challenge course. The teens spent the morning joining low elements and bonding together in small groups. They worked hard and showed off their communication skills they’ve been working on for the last two weeks. In the afternoon we had the chance to try three different high elements!! Teens had so much fun cheering each other on.
We are excited to get started on some trail work this week with the forestry team; our group will be helping to develop the land across the Tuolumne River for future programs at Tawonga.
Additionally, we are looking forward to learning from Miwok elders about land stewardship this week. We will end the session with some classic activities like gnarly, plaque making, floats and song sessions.
We are so proud of all our teens!! We can’t wait for more folks to experience this awesome updated program to build skills and make lifelong friends!
About Allie Simon
This is Allie’s 6th summer on staff. This summer, in addition to supervising TLI, she will act as an assistant director for session 4. She was a camper for 6 summers and participated in our historic Teen Service Learning (TSL) program which traveled to Costa Rica in 2014. Her experience with that program helped to influence this year’s newly revamped TLI travel program. Allie just completed her Masters in Social Work from Columbia University in New York. She will be moving to San Francisco in the fall to start work as a mental health counselor with the San Francisco school district.
The final week of Session 3 is off to a strong start! Our last backpacking trips are heading out, Chugim and Livnot electives are wrapping up and campers are enjoying their last few opportunities for floats.
Strong friendships are evident everywhere you look, a testament to Tawonga’s nurturing environment and cooperative community. With all-camp carnival, banquet and other end of session traditions to look forward to, campers are soaking up their Camp time.
Meanwhile our TLI teens are settled into the beautiful Teen Village – our newest cabins at Tawonga. Read more about TLI and their pre-Camp adventures below!
Check out today’s Tawonga tidbit!
Below, enjoy photos from the past few days at Camp!