Written by Michaela Bunker.
One of our extradinary local Gold Award Girl Scouts, Lucy Beckett, recently started a summer camp for refugee children.
The Girl Scout Gold Award is the most prestigious award in the world for girls (and the most difficult to earn), and it’s available exclusively to Girl Scouts.
Gold Award Girl Scouts are inspiring leaders who are working on a broad range of the most challenging problems facing our world today—from human trafficking to ocean pollution to education access to expanded STEM training for girls in underserved communities.
I sat down with Lucy to hear more about her project and the experience of persuing her Gold Award.
What was your Gold Award Project?
I started a summer camp for refugee children called Camp Nefesh to provide a safe and welcoming place for them to meet people who have been in their shoes and a place for them to have fun over the summer. Nefeshmeans soul, spirit, and life (in Hebrew). The camp also represents free child care for their parents, giving the parents an opportunity to focus on what they need to do. The camp served 60 campers, ages four to 13.
What motivated you to take on this project?
There are a lot of misconceptions about refugees and immigrants. I wanted to do something to advocate for this community and do something tangible to help. In the summer of 2017, I went to Seattle to work at a summer camp for refugee children, and I wanted to bring that concept back to Sacramento.
What obstacles did your project face?
Transportation was a huge problem. Our synagogue is located near the zoo, and it was difficult for people to get there. We rented a school bus to pick kids up, and then we organized volunteer drivers to drive kids to and from camp in their own personal vehicles. We are currently exploring more economical options for the upcoming summer.
The language barrier was also significant. We were told the children spoke Dari and Pashto, but when the kids arrived, they spoke many different languages. Some children had very little English skills. Fortunately, we had volunteers who spoke Farsi, and we had older siblings who were able to help translate for younger siblings.
What was a typical day like?
Each day, the children would arrive at noon, and the camp ran from noon to 4:00 p.m. We had theme days, such as Under The Sea, and we created theme-based activities, like swimming, crafts, and snack time. Many of the children had never swam before.
We organized adult volunteers to come and teach things. In Afghanistan, balloon animals are extremely rare and are treated almost like a delicacy. It was very exciting for the children to get to experience something like this. We had an American holiday theme day and explained the concept of trick-or-treating. The children also learned about how to wait in lines, a very new concept for some of them.
My friends helped me come up with ideas. We brainstormed together, even though they suggested that they might not know how to do this.
What was your budget?
It cost $6,000 to run the camp last year.
What advice would you give regarding forming a successful team?
Most importantly, you need to put together a team that is reliable and has experience. The team members also need to take initiative and be responsible.
The team I had originally put together did not follow through. They did not want to do the tasks I assigned them. Then, the Director of Education suggested that I reach out to my friends. I asked my friends to help, and they asked their friends. We used social media to help find volunteers.
How many volunteers did you have working at Camp Nefesh?
Overall, we had 60 teen volunteers and 20 adults. Some worked only one day; some worked every day for the whole two-week camp.
What advice would you give to girls who might be hitting a wall?
I would tell them not to get frustrated – it gets better. The most important thing is to ask for help. It is okay to ask for help, and it is not demeaning. I did not think this camp could actually be a real thing a year ago, and I would never have gotten to this point or have had this success if I had not asked for help.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned through this process:
That I can do anything and so can anyone who puts their mind and their energy towards something they want to accomplish.
What Pillar energizes you most and why? (The 4 Pillars: Outdoor, STEM, Entrepreneurship, Life Skills)
Life Skills! I feel like the pillar Life Skills teaches real, tangible skills for life. I feel prepared and ready for whatever obstacles or challenges life throws my way. The Life Skills pillar has taught me how to take initiative and has given me the tools I need to be successful and to help others. I am now confident that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.
What was the hardest part of your project?
Communication with the refugee agency was the most difficult part of the process It was hard to get through to them and to receive responses to our questions. Also, communicating with the parents was difficult because we had liability forms, registration forms, and lists of what kids needed to bring, but the language barrier caused confusion and was hard to overcome.
For example, there was a lot of confusion around the concept that, on certain days, kids needed to bring their towel and swimsuit.
What was the most rewarding part of the project for you?
At the end of the camp, the kids wrote thank you notes and drew pictures for their counselors. It was so rewarding to see what an impact we had had on the children and how much they had enjoyed their experiences at the camp.
What one story stands out from the camp?
On one of the camp days, we took the kids to the zoo. I emailed the zoo ahead of time and asked if they would be willing to provide free admissions for our group, and they did. The kids had never seen a lot of these animals so it was a really special and exciting experience for them. Also, the kids were so well behaved. It was really cool to be able to treat the kids to that experience and to have the zoo administration help make it happen.
Looking forward to summer 2019, what does Camp Nefesh look like?
I would like to try to make the days longer and make the overall camp length longer. We have more volunteers and more people know about it, so we are able to do more. We are hoping to have better transportation. We are also planning a big fundraiser in April to cover lots of the cost.
What is your most ambitious goal for this project?
I want this to be teen-led because I want to empower other teens to take on big projects and stand up for what they believe in. I want teens to realize that they CAN make a difference. When I was in Seattle, I asked the founder of that camp how they got started and asked what I could do start something like it myself. He told me I couldn’t do it because I’m a teenager.His response shocked me and also encouraged me to make it happen. He actually emailed me recently and asked me to write a blog that explains how he inspired me, but I declined.
Looking forward, I am trying to establish new leadership roles because people know that I am going to college soon and lots of people are offering to take over.
Sustainability is one of the Gold Award criteria, what makes Camp Nefesh sustainable?
We have engaged the community and have created excitement around the camp concept. I created an accessible Google Drive with all of the information needed to successfully run the camp. Because of the energy and enthusiasm of the community, I have the utmost confidence that this camp will sustain itself.
What do you hope someone takes away from this project?
I started this project to prove that I could stand up for what I believed in and that I could make a difference, even as a teenager. I hope others will realize the same things: that they can stand up for what they believe in, that they can stand up for other people, and that they can make a real difference in other people’s lives.