Students learn to value diversity at Camp Anytown

Whether as a melting pot or a tossed salad, students at Camp Anytown are spending the week learning to value the cultural, racial and religious differences that exist in society.

Colleen Ostrander's counselor at The Boys & Girls Club of Western Nevada had recommended that she participate in the camp this week at the Clear Creek Campground in Carson City.

After the first day, Ostrander was glad she took the recommendation.

"I've learned how to work better with my peers," said Ostrander, 14. "I want to make sure in high school I don't put anyone down or leave anyone out. I want to get along with everybody."

Camp Anytown is a program sponsored through the National Conference from Community and Justice, a human relations organization that was established in 1927 to fight bias, bigotry and racism.

The Northern Nevada region, which includes Reno, Carson City, Fallon and Douglas County, is one of 65 regions that will host camps for about 16,000 students across the United States.

"The goal of Camp Anytown is really to give the student delegates an opportunity to experience community building in its most Utopian form," said Christiana Bratiotis, executive director for the camp. "Unfortunately, we live in a society that doesn't allow us to see what real inclusivity and justice looks like. This is the one place that allows us to do that."

Bratiotis said the camp is designed to accommodate students from a variety of backgrounds and interests.

Christina Marks, 16, was recommended to the camp by her counselor at Job Corps. She said she often feels discriminated against as a Job Corps student and because she is black.

"Sometimes I don't pay it any attention," she said. "Sometimes my feelings get hurt."

The first day of camp is dedicated to the theme "know yourself."

The first step to getting to know themselves is an activity called the "privilege walk," where all 50 delegates form horizontal lines.

They are given directions such as, "All of you who had more than 50 books in your house when you were young, take one step forward," and, "All those who have ever gone to bed hungry because your family couldn't afford to eat, take one step backward."

By the end of the game the delegates are all spread out across the gym floor.

"Some elevate to the wall and some are pushed up against the back wall," Bratiotis said.

She said the activity is designed to demonstrate differences that people have no control over.

"Sometimes just seeing it is more powerful than words," she said. "The kids in the front can turn around and see the kids in the back and suddenly they get it."

The camp does not focus only on where the delegates come from but also on where they can go.

A Sparks middle school teacher and former Camp Anytown delegate, Terry DeBarger taught a workshop on Monday explaining the skills needed to belong to the various social classes.

"In our country, we have a myth that anybody can be in the upper class," DeBarger said. "We have another myth that people are in the lower class because they put themselves there and don't want to change."


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