Anytown Alabama Equips Teens with Tools to Lead Birmingham

April 8, 2016

Faith Munford is a staff member of Anytown Alabama, YWCA's social justice leadership camp for high school students. Munford currently is an AmeriCorps member serving with the YW's social justice department and wrote this blog for Al.com.

It is easy to say what teenagers should be doing better or that they are not interested in what's going on in society. However, the reality is that teenagers in Birmingham are being equipped with leadership skills and service opportunities around the city.

One of the ways that students connect with the city is through Anytown Alabama, a social justice and leadership camp offered by YWCA Central Alabama. Anytown is a weeklong camp held at Camp Hargis in Chelsea, and student participants live and learn together for an entire week in the summer. Last year, more than 20 schools were represented with students coming from all over the Greater Birmingham area.

The experience that students receive at Anytown is hard to fully describe. In some aspects, Anytown is like a traditional summer camp where delegates (students who attend camp), are able to swim, hike, and canoe. However, Anytown is definitely unique in other aspects. Each day, delegates are immersed in different workshops and activities that allow them to stretch their perceptions and the way they understand the world.

As one delegate remarked, "The real world has a lot of problems, whether all of us choose to acknowledge them or not." After recognizing these problems, the delegates are given tools to create change and become more involved in their community. In one short week, students transform into active members of their community, ready to engage with issues of the world.  

Programs like Anytown are necessary because high school students need a place to grow their leadership skills, and they realize that their world is so much larger than their own school or neighborhood. "I learned how to coexist in harmony and how to make an effect on the world," one student said.

At the conclusion of the week, delegates are able to reflect on the week and any changes they have recognized in themselves. "A leader has emerged inside of us all and we all have the ability to change the world in which we live," Chelsea High School student Regan McClain said after camp last year. "I'm worlds away from the person that I was before camp but still not yet the change that I hope to be."

So many times our community tells our youth they should know more about what is happening in the world and to do something about issues instead of just complaining. Anytown gives them a space to focus their energy and transform into today's leaders.

Anytown Alabama will be held June 5-11. To find out more about Anytown, please visit ywcabham.org/anytown-alabama

To get involved with the YWCA or support our programs, click here.