Letter to Our Stakeholders
From the FACES Staff and Board of Directors
I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude for your support. Because of community partners like you, Silicon Valley FACES has helped over 11,000 high school students build social-emotional learning skills like compassion, empathy, and understanding.
FACES’ alumni have come from diverse cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Many credit Camp Everytown as an experience that helped them learn how to be vulnerable with their peers and teachers and created a safe space for LBGTQ students to "come out." Other past students report that Camp inspired them to stay the course and graduate from high school, leave gang affiliations, and seek out careers in politics, education and social justice. Camp alumni have even helped organize and speak at local events for Black Lives Matter, March for Our Lives, and DACA rallies.
As you may know, the San Francisco Chronicle recently published articles that cast Silicon Valley FACES in a negative light. The articles state that experiential learning camps like ours are “risky” and can be “potentially harmful for some young people.” The articles cite several examples of objectionable activities, including a segregation meal where facilitators treat white students to a fine dining experience and Latino students clean up after them. The articles highlight a camp facilitator who antagonizes students to get negative reactions from them. These activities alarmed and concerned several teachers when interviewed.
Silicon Valley FACES does not utilize these tactics as part of our Camp Everytown program. The teachers that were highlighted as alarmed were not referring to Silicon Valley FACES camps. Unfortunately, the article does not make this distinction, thereby painting all experiential learning camps with the same negative brush. In response to these articles, FACES has chosen transparency and advocacy of our programs as our primary approach of communication with our stakeholders. It is my privilege and duty to advocate for a program I know positively affects so many young people.
Their experiences speak for themselves:
"FACES did really make a big impact on me that I will always be grateful for and it hurts me personally that someone would try to make it seem like that experience was anything but positive and even have the audacity to ruin the chance for other young people to have that same experience." - Former Independence HS Student.
"If it weren't for Camp Everytown, I wouldn’t have been able to become the leader in my community that I am now. For the SF Chronicle to have written such a negative and misleading article is very heartbreaking for those who have been able to learn from their experience at Camp Everytown. They do not use emotional or mental pain to bring students a specific understanding. Camp Everytown uses understanding, fun, and care to allow the students to bring themselves to the realization that each student, such as themselves, are three things: beautiful, smart, and capable." - Former Del Mar Student
Our long-standing history and reputation in this community is a testament to the quality and care of our programs. Please know that the safety of our youth is of the utmost importance and we make sure that there are plenty of “eyes” on our student delegates as we guide them through the immersive Camp experience. Law enforcement officers regularly attend to help build bridges between youth and the police. High school faculty and staff participate at every Camp as support counselors, helping to provide an emotional container for all the excellent and challenging work that we accomplish in just four days.
This year, we invited experts in Educational Psychology, Clinical Social Work and Clinical Psychology to review our curriculum and attend camp to provide feedback. Based on this feedback, we have added a self-care component for each full day, strengthened our trauma-informed practices, and included the creation of individual self-care plans for all participants, which coincide with their specialized school action plans. We are also working on closer partnerships with other youth-serving community-based organizations to provide wrap-around services such as mindfulness, self-care, healthy relationships, and open spaces. As a result of comments and suggestions from our experts, our staff has undergone crisis management training, we are implementing a mental health status screening procedure, and every camp from this point forward will include an onsite mental health professional.
Below are key points one clinical expert observed about Camp Everytown:
It effectively takes youth delegates and adult facilitators out of their every-day world via a highly structured program, with constant supervision and clear, well-designed activities.
It encourages personal and group processing as part of building empathy, social change, and leadership skills.
It is a remarkable approach to reach youth in this era.
The program brings about a profound change for delegates and others, and the safety and attentiveness for delegates are firmly in place.
While we feel these Chronicle articles did not clearly differentiate the practices of different camps, they did cause us to review our curriculum and program to assure that we are providing our delegates with the safest, most positive experience that we can, and to update you on the steps we have taken to further our mission.
Thank you for your continued support in our endeavor to create a unique space for our youth to develop empathy, understanding, and compassion for themselves, for their peers, and for the world.