I went to summer camp once, and I don’t have fond memories of it. Maybe it was the terrible food or the short-tempered camp counselors. Maybe it was the completely meaningless activities. Or maybe it was that Jimmy Teufel gave me an atomic wedgie in front of the female campers. Ah, childhood.

Thanks to people like Nora Kramer, however, summer camp has changed a lot. Nora has channeled her teaching skills and passion for activism into creating the new Youth Empowered Action Camp (YEA), which will give kids the knowledge and guidance they need to take on a world of social injustice. Animal cruelty, gay rights and global warming are just a few of the important issues YEA will cover, with each camper choosing his or her area of interest. This summer’s event will be held at the Quaker Center in Ben Lomond, California, just outside of Santa Cruz, August 17th to the 21st.

Youth Empowered Action Camp director and animal activist Nora Kramer

Youth Empowered Action Camp director and animal activist Nora Kramer

Nora, who’s worked as a camp director and senior staff at three different summer camps over the years to learn the best practices of established camps, is also a longtime animal activist and has been working with young people for most of this decade, including teaching high school English. She says she was inspired to start YEA Camp after doing some work for In Defense of Animals while teaching humane education on the side. “I had such a positive experience working with youth, both at after-school programs, as a guest speaker at schools and with the kids who volunteered or called in to IDA about animal issues,” she says. “I sensed the compassion and urgency that young people have ― there wasn’t the same jadedness or cynicism that I had seen in many adults. A few students asked me about things to do in the summer, and I started looking into it.”

What she discovered was a shortage of programs for kids interested in social activism. “Most organizations have no capacity to handle volunteers or interns who are under a certain age, and there were kids who were sitting around doing nothing for animals or other issues they might care about because there wasn’t anything out there for them, and they didn’t have the initiative or experience to start doing stuff on their own — which is an issue for adult activists too!” Since Nora loved summer camp as a kid, it became clear that this was something she wanted to pursue. She soon got her teaching credential, which enabled her to work but still have summers free. Now, after experience at three summer camps, she’s put together an outstanding team to make Youth Empowered Action summer camp a reality for kids 11 to 15.

Campers will have their choice of issues they want to address, and the emphasis, Nora says, will be on teaching skills kids can use to tackle these social injustices in the real world. “Our plan for the future is a full-length summer camp with probably two-week sessions, so there will be much more program time.” Nevertheless, kids will get some good background in whatever topic they choose this year. “Each camper will have a mentor who will work with them to make sure they have accurate information and are connected with local or national groups working on their issue of importance,” explains Nora. “I will be the mentor to the animal rights kids.” One of the techniques used in the training will be to have campers create their own talking points, break out into small groups and practice answering questions about their topic; not only does this give them exposure to the rhetoric of their chosen issue, but they’ll be teaching one another. (This is a technique adults can apply to their activism too: Take a public-speaking class, for example, and you’ve got a built-in audience for your outreach efforts while polishing your skills.)

The camp will also feature a daily series called Compassion Into Action in which they’ll focus on one social issue that can be impacted by our daily choices. “We’re thinking one of these will be on animal issues and that we’ll show The Meatrix, though this has not been finalized.” In addition to Nora, lauren Ornelas*, another longtime animal activist, will discuss the issue of animal cruelty. Oh, and did I mention all the food will be vegan? “Because the camp is vegan, we will explain in detail why the food is what it is,” Nora says. “We will certainly discuss factory farming as well as the other reasons that influence this choice.”

Animal agribusiness has long known the value of involving kids in the industry early on, which is why they support desensitizing programs like 4-H, FFA and ag classes that help turn today’s young people into tomorrow’s factory farmers. So it’s encouraging to see activists like Nora engaging kids through a compassionate, life-affirming program. YEA Camp will only be accommodating 18 campers this year, allowing counselors to give everyone more attention. There’s still time to apply.

Update: Due to a scheduling conflict, lauren will not be able to speak at the camp this year.