If you only read once a year, this is it

My name is Nick Nolan, and I am a 16-year-old Caucasian male. Six years ago, I was diagnosed with Alopecia Universalis, an autoimmune disease that effectively makes you lose all of your hair. To combat this—or, shall I say, to hide from this fact, I have worn a backwards San Francisco Giants hat, so that the majority of my bald scalp is covered up.

Coming into Camp Everytown, I was highly uncertain about whether or not I would get anything out of it, as I knew next to none of the other delegates, and I feared the potential of a less-than-accepting community.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Camp Everytown doesn’t have the problem of a poor community. It creates a family out of those that are selected to go, and it does an incredible job in doing so. Camp Everytown spares no expense helping everyone get to know everyone, helping people take the leap out of their comfort zone, into a community of supportive friends that will last a long while after high school.

The first night alone disproved my initial beliefs, as the Prejudice activity showed how hurtful some stereotypes are to people. Not only this, though, but it was even more of an eye-opening experience to be on both sides of the stereotypes—oppressed and oppressor. As the oppressor, it hurt greatly to see that some preconceived notions that I agreed with—some that I even suggested—damaged the oppressed so dearly, how it spurred them to tears. As the oppressed, though, I truly felt the pain of a stereotype. I went outside with those that either had a disability themselves or had family with a disability—mind you, though, I went not with myself in mind, but my 21-year-old sister. I say so because, not only does she, too, have Alopecia (in fact, she was diagnosed a year before I), but she has ADD and dyslexia, atop that. After returning to the main group when they had finished with listing stereotypes about our group, and seeing claims such as “stupid”, “useless”, and “shouldn’t work”, it was difficult to bite back the tears and anger that washed over me, as she is one of the most independent people that I know, who has worked three jobs at once before, alongside going to college and taking care of a horse. Put simply, I disagreed strongly with the above statements.

Ultimately, though, undergoing this truly made me realize how harmful any given stereotype may be to a person, having experienced said harm firsthand. I may have had a rough idea of the emotions they can inflict, but never before had I understood fully the depth the piercing capabilities that a single word can have on a person.

Frankly, the above recounting was just the first night, not even a complete 24-hour day. Now, imagine these emotions spread across four days, like emotional butter spread across the bread of the mind. Because, really, that’s what Camp Everytown is. A warm butter that seeps into the core of a person’s being, imbuing them with a greater flavor, a flavor that stands for equality, empathy, justice, acceptingness, and a general enlightenment. In short, it changes the bread, it changes the person.

Whoever goes to Camp receives as much of this butter as they desire, though they’re all given some to begin with. It’s their decision.

I cannot easily describe any sort of “Ah-ha!” moment at Camp, for I requested as much butter as I could take. I went to Camp, wanting to be changed for the better, wanting to get as much I could out of the miniature world that was filled with a wondrous thing: support. At Camp, regardless of your actions, people would be there, to help you when you fall, to cheer you on, to support you.

However, while I cannot bring about an accurate description of the specific moment that changed me most, I am able to supplement an aftereffect that Camp had on me, a change that the butter granted me.

Next year, and, hopefully, for the rest of my life, I would like to come to terms with that which has evaded me for the past six years. I would like to truly be myself. I would like to help others truly be themselves. I would like to bring this wondrous support back to my community. I would like to live without a hat glued to my head. If not for Camp, I would have kept running from this for as long as I possibly could. As a result of Camp, though, I know that I can—and will—make this leap from my comfort zone. It is for this reason, and innumerably many more, that I am thankful for the opportunity to go to Camp Everytown.

#diversity #campeverytown #socialemotionallearning #prejudice #community

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