Writers, poets and intellectuals have been searching for Utopia for centuries. They obviously forgot to look in Carson City.
Camp Anytown USA, a leadership camp that brings high school students of diverse backgrounds together, set up Sunday at the Clear Creek Conference Center for a week of activities for area high school students.
Executive Director Christiana Bratiotis described the setting as a “utopia” where delegates are able to be themselves and examine their own prejudices in a safe environment.
Through group activities, workshops, discussion groups and counselor meetings, delegates get to know each other and learn invaluable leadership skills, Bratiotis said.
“It’s about celebrating the uniqueness of every individual and what that means in a community,” she said.
The camp is sponsored by the National Conference for Community Justice and pulls delegates from diverse religious, racial, economic and social backgrounds. A full range of high school age students attend – from student body presidents to gang members.
The goal of the camp, Bratiotis said, is to make the delegates realize that everyone is essentially the same.
Bratiotis was a delegate at Camp Anytown in 1989 and decided after her experience that she would be the executive director of the program in 10 years.
Nine years and 10 months later, Bratiotis achieved her goal.
As a staff member, Bratiotis’ favorite memory is of a gang member who got off a bus at the camp wearing a T-shirt with an inappropriate message.
“He said, ‘I’m a banger, this is my life.’ In the course of the week he connected with some of the staff and traded in his T-shirt for a tiara and was dancing in a skit,” she said.
The delegate eventually left the gang, although it was a three year process, Bratiotis said.
Sunday’s activities included a “Get Acquainted” session with all 53 students. Staff members led games to help the students learn names while having fun.
One of the activities was the “person to person game” where students would have to split into groups and touch their elbows to another’s elbow or their fingers to another’s foot, depending on what the staff member shouted out.
“If we could get North Korea and South Korea to play this game the war would be over,” said Terry DeBarger, one of the camp advisors, while explaining the game.
The delegates also played an animated game of tag in a small section of the conference room.
“These are kids that wouldn’t be caught dead without their makeup and they’re on the floor having a great time,” said Susan Shapiro, camp nurse and an advisor who has traveled from her home in Portland, Ore. to help out with the camp in Carson City eight of its 10 years.
“It’s a great bunch,” she said. “They will rise to almost any occasion.”