If you listen, you can hear it. It's what we call THE ANYTOWN SPIRIT!

March 18, 2014

Sunny Chao is a Birmingham native and recent graduate of Auburn University. She has participated in Anytown as both a delegate and staff member, and she hopes to use those experiences to promote better resources and leadership in the workplace. Currently she is attempting to transition into post-college life as smoothly as possible.
 

“Yellow, black, white, red or brown makes no difference when you come down to Anytown – our Anytown.” 

Six years later, I still find myself humming these words from our camp song. At home I occasionally come across old name tags and written affirmations, which remind of me of a camp that changed the way I view the world and provided me with connections I never expected. Anytown may only last a week, but its lessons are evident in the lives carried by its delegates and staff.

In my sophomore year of high school, I attended aHeritage Panel with my classmates and was introduced toAnytown. Back then it seemed like a risk to participate in a camp where I barely knew anyone, where I couldn’t use my ever-so-important cell phone, and where I would discuss sensitive topics with strangers. The decision to just go for it led to my first and most important lesson: getting out of your comfort zone induces positive change. Attending Anytown was easily one of the best choices I’ve ever made, and I would go back in a heartbeat.

In fact, after freshman year of college, I did go back – this time as a staff member.  The leaders whom I had admired before were now my peers, and I welcomed the opportunity to share the experience with new delegates. The thing about Anytown is that it never gets old, and you never stop growing. Each session builds its own distinct character, but all sessions are created on the basis of awareness and empowerment.

Having grown up a minority in a fairly homogenous community, and the daughter of divorced immigrant parents, I understood and faced the implications of social stigmas, especially concerning my race – but I didn’t know how to change any of it. Anytown allowed for a mash-up of my experiences with those of fellow students, which widened my exposure to other social injusticesregarding race, sexual orientation, gender roles, age, ability, religion, socioeconomic status and immigration. I learned about real issues, how to start resolving them and how to lead by example with my friends.

Although camp is embedded with many intense and vulnerable moments, it also comes with extensive singing, dancing and pure fun. It’s where I learned to wobble! Every aspect of Anytown cultivates deeper personal connections, as well as the ability to empathize, and the relationships created here in just a week are unlike any other.

I try to always carry the spirit of Anytown with me: to embrace diversity, encourage tolerance and engage in my community. One week at camp gave me knowledge and passion. It made me a better leader throughout high school and college, and I know the trend will continue into post-grad life. One (magnificent, overwhelming, challenging, powerful, rewarding) week gave me direction, and I’m so excited to continue making change. 

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