Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Inspiration: Young Authors Camp


For five days, June 27-July 1, 2016, I led a Young Authors Camp at the Naples Public Library here in town. Offered through the Southern Maine Writing Project, of which I became a Teacher Consultant back in 2007, the YAC day camp allows children and teens of all ages an opportunity to meet one another for a week of creative writing time. This was my first year leading a camp. Although each site is to have a minimum of six campers to cover costs, an exception was made for our group of four. We are a rare high school aged group and the coordinators hoped to nurture this budding interest in the Lakes Region. 

I had butterflies the morning of our first day. I arrived at the library an hour early and Dani Longley, the library's director (who would prove to be an incredibly supportive force for the teens and I), carried in several boxes of materials to The Gathering Room which would serve as our home base. As the campers arrived, I shook hands, smiled brightly, introduced myself as "Anne", and made last minute arrangements with parents concerning pick-ups at dismissal time. I led everyone to our meeting room. Then, we were off and writing!

In our week the three girls and one boy experimented with various writing exercises and prompts, practiced giving feedback to one another, enjoyed a fun writer’s marathon exploring our beautiful town, and worked on pieces to submit to an anthology of writings from all area Young Authors Camp participants. We tested the variety of nooks in the library and settled into our spaces to write. We often ate lunch together on the beautiful deck of the library overlooking the town. Those were times when the campers would find their way to me, to ask me to look over their stories, to ask a question, or to simply talk. At the end of each day, I asked my campers to leave me honest feedback on how the day’s activities had gone for them and whether or not they had suggestions for the next day. It was my hope that each participant was learning, feeling accomplished, and having fun. The teens expressed strong appreciation for the free writing time and the array of interesting exercises. They also proposed a few new activities they hoped to try. 

The writing marathon day was clearly their favorite day! It was mine as well, for it had been the day our group had truly bonded. Walking through town together a natural sharing of our writing and our lives had come about. By the time we reached our final destination on the marathon, the playground, it was evident the four teens had become friends. I sat at a picnic table watching the four of them push one another on the merry-go-'round and I felt all the emotions of a proud parent and teacher. The group was also sincere in their interest to encourage one another’s voices. They consistently shared their excitement to return to camp the next day. The notes gave me the satisfaction of knowing their time at camp was well spent. I could not have asked for a better set of young people to spend time with at the start of my summer.

Although my intention had been to inspire these young people to fall further in love with the written word, working with these four teens over the course of the five days has inspired me as a writer. Their enthusiasm to fill the blank page, to dive into new genres, to experiment with new approaches to writing was beautiful to witness. I began to realize it was time for me to reopen my own writing journals, to recommit to my love of writing.

Returning home after our last day together, I emptied my bag of books and writing utensils and took time to read the notes each had penned to me as we were about to exchange our goodbyes. Signing on to lead a Young Authors Camp, doing the leg work to bring one to Naples, and extending my teaching year for this one week was undoubtedly a blessing. And throughout this summer, I vow right here and now to practice what I’ve preached, to take a risk each new day to put words on the blank page. 

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