CoopCAMP_ teens 2016_small

Co-op Camp Creates a Community for Teens to Explore Cooperatives

Kyle 1This summer more than 40 teenagers from across North Carolina attended the annual Co-op Leadership Camp held at the NC FFA Center at White Lake, North Carolina. The week-long overnight camp is a program of the Cooperative Council of North Carolina. The event immerses high school students in the cooperative world. The teens use the cooperative business model and Seven Cooperative Principles to organize a mock t-shirt co-op. The teens attending the camp each have a co-op sponsor.

Weaver Street Market sponsored Kyle Burns, a high school student from Fuquay Varina. Kyle’s peers selected him to receive one of the CLC Leadership Awards. He was honored at the closing banquet awards evening. After attending the camp, Kyle observed, “The things that I learned in those four days are more important than anything I have learned in the past 17 years.”

He also told us he likes to write, so we asked him to write about his experiences at the camp. Here’s the story of his remarkable journey of personal growth and community building as he engaged the world of cooperatives:

What Co-op Leadership Camp Means to Me

A few weeks prior to me writing this article, I received a set of papers from my parents, which they had obtained from our next-door neighbors. The papers in question introduced me for the first time to the Cooperative Leadership Camp, which is hosted every year at the NC FFA Center at White Lake, NC. Now to be completely honest, I thought nothing of it at the time; it was only the second time I had ever heard of a cooperative, outside of my business classes in high school.

Like many people I know, I like to stick to routine and very rarely take on new experiences. I am not really the type of person that likes to camp or socialize outside of my comfort zone—I would much rather spend my time on the beach than at a camp somewhere. To put it simply, I don’t like to come out of my shell a whole lot. But if I hadn’t, I would have missed an opportunity like no other, an opportunity to become a part of something bigger.

_DSC1719In a little over four days, I reconnected with myself, made relationships with people that I’d never have made before this camp, and became a better person. I can say all of this and it will mean nothing—unless you have the chance to be in my shoes, you will not understand the emotion I am feeling when I write this.

I have grown up in a metropolitan area for most of my life and have bought into the whole ‘status quo’ thing. One of the biggest problems with my generation is that they are misguided. Most people like me are concerned with useless notions like complexion, popularity, the social hierarchy, and money and affluence. Yet when I was at camp, none of this mattered, and it gave me the chance to realize how pointless all of this stuff is. I found myself in my element. I met people that are usually out of my preference, built long-lasting relationships that were stronger than most I have known, and experienced a warm, unbiased community among a group of people that could stand up to the test of time.

Activity_1Before now, I was concerned about how much money I could make, how much influence I could obtain, and how much I could build myself up. I am an opportunist—I take something that has practically no worth and turn it into a gold mine. I wanted to start my own company and make a sizable profit, but after going to camp, I came to realize none of that matters, that what is worth more is the impact that I have on my community and the people in my life.

I learned the value of what it means to be human. I learned that true wealth is measured in the character of an individual, not the amount in his bank account, and that no matter how different a group of people are, they can find it in themselves to come together and take on the world.

Activity_2The ideas, the people, and the connections that I obtained at camp can’t be taught in schools, bought, or even acquired. They have to come within you. The things that I learned in those four days are more important than anything I have learned in the past 17 years. I went in with the misguided notion that it would not be worth my time since I had no interest in being a farmer and ended having my life changed for the better.

I experienced a community with the counselors and my peers that is indescribable. I knew that I could say or do anything and they would support and cherish me all the way, that no matter what our differences were we had a mutual respect for each other. I had only known this group of individuals for a matter of days, but it felt like I had known them for years. There was a sense of a sort of family unity, I ‘loved’ these people. But not like a husband loves a wife, but like a brother loves his sister or a father loves his son.

At the end of the day though, it doesn’t matter what you did, but how you did it and who you did it with. I saw a side of myself that I have never seen before, and I would recommend you join me because you will get more out of life than you have ever gotten before.