A letter from YAV Megan McCarty in Miami
April 15, 2010
Email: Megan McCarty
This past week, my co workers and I took 150 urban youth to a camp in Lake Wales, Florida. The conference we put on is known as Camp Oasis. The term “oasis” from the image of a watering hole in the desert. Or, a more figurative definition being the idea of a peaceful, pleasant area in the midst of a difficult, troubled, or hectic place or situation. All 150 youth are not ours. Other urban groups, like ours, from the greater Miami area are involved in this camp as well. My supervisor Kim started Camp Oasis over fifteen years ago; since then it has only grown infinitely. She saw a need to get these kids out of their homes, out of the city, and into a space where, at the very least, for four days they will know they are loved.
Camp Oasis has probably been the most powerful experience I have witnessed since my move to South Florida. My youth changed the second they got out of Florida City. Every single one of my youth had a life changing moment at Oasis. I'm not going to lie, I was skeptical about Camp Oasis. The first question every youth asked me when I moved to Miami was, “Are you going to Oasis?” Oasis is seriously the only thing my youth have been talking about since August. Throughout my life, I have been involved with a lot of camps and conferences. I live for camps and conferences. It’s where my true passion lies. So, in the back of my head, the only thing I kept thinking was, “Ok, I'm sure it's great for these kids, but it must just be like every other conference I have attended and they just don't have any experience with this kind of thing.” Turns out, like with most of my initial reactions, I was wrong. Dead wrong. Oasis, first and foremost, was the most organized and well put together camp I have ever been privileged to be a part of. Kim, and the supervisor of another program very similar to ours in Homestead, worked pretty close to 24/7 leading up to the camp, and all of their hard work paid off and truly showed from the second we got there.
In the fifteen+ year history of Oasis it has never rained harder than a short drizzle. However, this year, the skies opened up. We’re talking “torrential downpour, fear for your life” kind of rain. And it wasn't short lived. It rained from Sunday afternoon all the way through Monday morning. A big part of taking these kids out of the city is to introduce them to outdoor activities that they would never otherwise get to witness or be a part of. Do you know how hard it is to play soccer or go boating in a tornado? So, to say the least, this year’s camp could have been terrible. We could have let the rain ruin all of our plans and we could have pouted. Those were all my suggestions. I don't really understand why they were not taken seriously. Instead what happened is we made the best of it. The kids were forced to take a breath and just sit. Just relax. God knew what he was doing. These kids don’t ever get the chance to sit in their daily lives. They go from school where they are subjected to pressures that I never had to think about or endure in my middle school or high school straight into their homes where their parents tell them that they are useless and are never going to amount to anything. Every minute of their lives is spent trying to resist all they are subject to and everything they are told. They use all their energy trying not to be just another statistic. Because of this, their lives are tiring. And this weekend gave them a chance not only to rest and be themselves, but it also gave them a chance to see that there is a different way of life out there.
I spent most of the four days trying to figure out what made Camp Oasis so different from the other camps and conferences where I have spent my time. Sure it was well organized and amazingly staffed with 50 adults trained in youth leadership. However, there was still something more. The only answer I have been able to come up with during my days of reflection is this: the youth. When you take 150 youth who have barely even been out of the city and put them in the woods with crazy things like snakes and bugs as well as expose them to unheard of things like a lake, boats, and new games like nine-square (a super hyped-up version of the classic four-square game), it’s no wonder radical results occurred. These kids were curious about everything. And more than curious, these kids wanted to participate in everything. While most middle school and high school youth would yawn at a paddle boat ride or a small slide into a lake, these kids thought it was the best thing that had ever happened in their lives. I was in charge of swimming and even though on Sunday the temperature dropped and the clouds rolled in, every single youth that signed up for that activity block was swimming and had to literally be dragged out when we told them it had to end early because of the lightening. Even during the hard rain, many youth came up asking me if they could go swimming and they just did not understand why I said “no.” They did not take a single experience for granted and truly wanted to cherish and soak up every second of being outdoors and away from Florida City.
While the outdoor experiences played a large role in making this conference so different, the one thing that truly made the difference was showing these youth that there are people in their lives that love them. As I had mentioned before, a lot of our youth are told repeatedly in their homes that they are worthless, that they were an accident, and that they will never amount to anything in life. I do not understand it, but there is a large cultural difference surrounding families in South Florida. Instead of wanting the best for their children, most parents do not want their children to be more successful than themselves. They see it as a threat and they want their children to always be around to take care of them instead of having their children focus on a career or a family. It happened to the parents when they were children and it will continue to happen until the cycle can be broken. It seems very backwards to me, but it occurs. And it occurs in almost every home of our children and youth. So, when you take these middle school and high school students who have been told their entire lives that they should not be alive and you tell them the radical message that God loves them, their entire life changes. The message is so overwhelming for most of them that even the toughest high school boys will weep in your arms for hours. It’s a powerful experience. To say the very least.
Camp Oasis is truly one of the best programs that Branches has to offer. It was life changing just to be able to be a part of the staff and witness the changes that our youth went through. God is truly raining blessings on South Florida and moving powerfully through each of our youth as well.
Grace and Peace!