Sixty Palo Alto High School students will embark on a four-day leadership program in Santa Cruz called Camp Unity at the end of September. Organizers of the camp seek to help students discover the importance of social justice, family relationships and community development.
Students will leave their phones and other technological devices behind, leaving them isolated from the outside world. They stay in one-room cabins headed by counselors, all of whom are Camp Unity and Paly alumni.
“[Before] I went as a student, I was pretty shut off from other people,” said Clare Gleeson, former camper and current counselor. “The camp made me really open up to other people … and as a counselor, it gave me the chance to help other people do the same thing.”
The program was created in the 90s by the Silicon Valley Conference for Community and Justice (SVCCJ), a local non-profit; however, around four years ago, Paly separated from the organization to run the camp independently. The camp cycled through a number of names, including Camp Everytown and Camp Anytown. Most recently, the program has been dubbed “Camp Unity.”
Attendees do not sign up to participate in the program; rather, they are nominated to attend the camp. Either by nominating themselves with a written application or by teachers and Camp Unity alumni. Camp Unity coordinators Adam Paulson, Liz Mueller, and Leticia Burton then review the applications to decide the final camp roster.
“We look at it [the nominations] and say, ‘Who would really bring something to camp,” Burton said. “We try to make sure that students who say they want to go really want to go to camp to contribute.”
In prior years, athletic commitments limited the number of students able to attend Camp Unity. In hope of avoiding such conflicts again, organizers separated Camp Unity into two sessions. This year, camp will take place in both September and March.
Through stimulative exercises, students will explore and get a deeper understanding of leadership, equity and diversity.
“Camp changed my life because I got a look inside the lives of my peers and classmates,” said Darrow Hornik, former camper and Paly junior. “I learned how to be more empathetic, more open-minded and a generally a more accepting human being.”