By Ahtziri Rivera, Project Avary
I was a 16-year-old volunteer for Project Avary’s summer camp in 2017. Project Avary is a nonprofit organization that provides children of incarcerated parents with a community of individuals who understand and support them. Project Avary helps children develop leadership skills while engaging in a variety of activities in nature.
Every summer, Project Avary has a camp for children to come together and enjoy different activities. You could see all the exciting faces and smiles from returning campers as they got off the bus. You could also see the timid, shy faces from new kids that would soon be filled with joy.
My first year at summer camp, I was a volunteer in their kitchen. My job was to help prep the dining hall, serve food during meals, and clean up after each meal. In between, I had a lot of free time so I’d go do the activities my cabin was doing. There was art, poetry, dance, yoga, drum lessons and nature explorations all throughout the day.
Seeing the kids’ faces light up when they would unwrap their tie dye was amusing. The kids would confidently hit the drum to the beat of the instructor and you could see the determination in their faces trying to get it right. These kids made any activity entertaining, and they encouraged each other to do their best.
What makes that place so special is not just art and dance. There is a special fire circle dedicated to the youth where they get to open up and become vulnerable with one another. They get to share their stories or just listen, but the energy in the environment is just so heartwarming. You could feel the Avary love in the circle. I felt a sense of belonging when I had my first fire circle. Seeing these youth get comfortable and share their trauma with the circle just made me see how courageous they all were.
Project Avary has given these youth so many new experiences they would normally not get. Some of them had never even been to a camp, including me. Being in a place like this would have helped me so much as a child, but I’m glad I found it when I did. Even though I joined at an older age, they still helped me heal through past trauma. I am now an associate counselor at Project Avary where I go on weekend outings and retreats with youth around the bay area.
Avary has given me many new experiences and opportunities I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else and for that I am so grateful to be a part of the community.