Camping to Connect: September 2019

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Last weekend’s Camping to Connect retreat saw another group of young “masterminds” from New York ditch their kicks for hiking boots, and head to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in western New Jersey.

The campers, from Brooklyn and Queens. Ranged from 14-17 in age. We rendezvoused with from outside Mastermind Connect’s office in DUMBO, Brooklyn.

First order of business after arriving at AMC Mohican Outdoor Center: gearing up!

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With the support of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Youth Opportunities Program, we’re able to loan our campers a full suite of outdoor gear and equipment, including rain jackets, sleeping bags, and backpacks.

We start each Camping to Connect retreat with a “grounding” ritual, in which we ask the students to take off their shoes and socks and feel the bare earth underneath his feet -- cue the complaining! -- and close their eyes to absorb the sounds of nature.

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Some fun group exercises break the ice and enliven the mood.

For us to get to know the youth more intimately -- and for them to learn about one another -- we break into smaller circles for deeper conversation and sharing.

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Time to make camp: we teach the youth how to set up tents, organize a camp kitchen, and use the “bear box” -- locked metal containers that keep food away from opportunistic forest animals.

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We lead the campers on a 4-mile hike up that includes a section along the famed Appalachian Trail. Each camper takes a turn at being a hike leader, sweeper (leading from behind), and navigator, using a trail map as a guide. We’re afforded spectacular panoramic views from atop the Catfish Fire Tower.

Chow time. The campers cook (and a clean!) a meal of pasta and salad, enjoyed around the picnic tables at our campsite. Shout-out to BioLite for providing C2C with headlamps and camp lighting.

Biolite lamps helped with chow time

Biolite lamps helped with chow time

The pinnacle of every Camping to Connect retreat: our fire ritual. It’s here that we lead the campers in vocal improvisation and song, share stories, teach the youth about vulnerability -- and burn little pieces of paper upon which the campers earlier had scrawled their deepest fears. Then we partake in that most traditional of campfire treat: s’mores.

After a light morning exercise and breakfast, the campers are given a moment to enjoy the nearby lake.

Afterwards, some moments of personal reflection to be with themselves and take in all they’ve experienced.

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The closing circle: we end every C2C retreat just as it started: in a circle of brotherhood. Thank-yous and appreciations are shared, and we adults get to hear from the youth about how they were touched by their camping experience. The same kids who only a day earlier complained about having to stand barefoot on the grass are now asking if they can stay in the woods for another week!

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As a token of their graduation, Camping to Connect gifts the campers merino wool socks, performance underwear and headwear donated by Darn Tough, SAXX, and Buff.

Thanks to our allies!

Please share the news; we’re accepting applications for our initiative. Interested young men from the New York City metro area can apply here to enroll!