Last weekend, YO S.O.S. went on its first ever retreat, which was dedicated to strengthening bonds in the group and preparing for the community organizing the youth organizers will do in the spring. The group did activities focused on unity and relationship building. In addition, they strategized and planned their spring community organizing project, Arts to End Violence.
Twenty youth organizers and four staff members traveled by bus to Camp Vacamas in New Jersey for group activities. On the first night of the retreat every teen shared a personal object that was important to him or her. Some people shared pictures or drawings, while others shared things connected to family members living and those that passed. This activity allowed the youth organizers a chance to share aspects of their identities and histories. It was a time for each person to understand more about each other’s similarities and differences. Afterward we went outside in the freezing temperatures to sing some silly camp songs around a fire.

The next day consisted of an outdoor challenge course, a facilitation and organizing training to get them ready for Arts to End Violence, and games in which they shared facts about themselves to get to know each other better. The youth organizers practiced their communication and teamwork skills in big group games, including team skipping rope, a tire zip line, and obstacle courses.
At the end of the weekend, many organizers said they felt closer to each other, had built trust within the group, and were able to open themselves up and make new friends. Youth Organizer Helen Dupree said, “The retreat gave me a chance to get to know everyone and build a stronger relationship while planning what we will be doing for YO S.O.S. in these next few months. Knowing that I have supporting & determined peers is a wonderful feeling. I’m looking forward to these next few month.”
The youth organizers challenged themselves to step out of their comfort zones. It was a heartwarming and amazing experience for the staff to be a part of, and many of the youth organizers are still sharing stories in person (and on Facebook) about what it meant to them. YOUTH POWER!