Anytown Alabama Empowers High School Students, Strengthens Communities

June 11, 2014

Last week from Sunday, June 1st until Saturday, June 7th, high school students from all over the Birmingham metro area participated in Anytown Alabama, a social justice leadership camp sponsored by the National Conference for Community Justice (NCCJ) and YWCA Central Alabama. The camp which empowered high school students to help nurture acceptance and inclusivity in their communities, was located at the YMCA’s beautiful Camp Hargis. Lives were changed, hearts grew and lifelong friends and memories were made all in the name of making the world a better place.

Student “delegates” come from all over Birmingham and represent different races, genders, religions, schools, neighborhoods, immigration statuses and abilities. Anytown gives students the chance to canoe, hike, fish, play basketball and swim in the pool or lake, while also participating in honest dialogue and interactive learning about social justice issues. They also engage in team building exercises that create lifelong friendships and a supportive, inclusive camp environment. Students learn how to respond to difficult real-life situations with kindness, courage and respect.

“This year's delegates came to camp already with a passion for social justice and a hunger for new relationships and experiences, so staff served just as the catalysts– the delegates did all of the hard work,” said Anamaria Santiago, Co-Director of this year’s Anytown. “Participating in Anytown is a pleasure every year, but this year's camp was particularly rewarding because the delegates who participated really gave of themselves and reminded me that passionate young people can and will make our community stronger. They only need our support.”

This year, students participated in workshops about privilege, gender roles, immigration issues, religious diversity, culture identity and more. Participants heard personal stories regarding disabilities, spiritual journeys and challenges with immigration policies. Oftentimes, these subjects are difficult to talk about and reaching out to others different than us can feel uncomfortable. Anytown creates a safe space which allows students to feel welcome to be themselves and ask questions they may have never felt comfortable asking. For that, students often experience feelings of profound acceptance and inclusivity at Anytown. Many who participate, students and staff alike, feel a strong sense of community and support from others at camp.

Kim, a delegate of this year’s Anytown said, “Despite being alone on Sunday, boarding the bus to “WhoKnowsWhere”, Alabama with a large group of teenagers and staff members I'd previously never met, I gained a family with whom I never want to part with. As we sang together on the white-walled busses and discussed ways to reunite, I realized Anytown was nowhere near over. I, along with my fellow delegates, will use what we have learned to change our community for the better of everyone.”

Anytown Alabama was started by NCCJ in 1989. The NCCJ is a human relations organization dedicated to fighting bias, bigotry and racism in America. The YWCA and NCCJ have been collaborating partners in bringing Anytown to the community since 2011.

The YWCA would like to thank NCCJ Board, AmeriCorps members and all of the staff for making this year’s Anytown Alabama an outstanding one. May we never forget the lessons we learned about making our communities stronger, more loving and more accepting.

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