Camp Rock Riley’s Way Style
By Manavi Bajpai (2023 Riley’s Way Youth Leadership Retreat Team Mentor, 2022 Call For Kindness Fellow)
I have always loved Riley’s Way and everything it stands for, so when I learned of a way I could give back to the program by becoming a Team Mentor at the fifth annual Riley’s Way Youth Leadership Retreat, I jumped at the chance. I will be honest: I didn’t fully know what I signed up for and that was apparent when I showed up in Pennsylvania, in 50-degree weather, in shorts.
I quickly realized the amazing opportunity I was given when I received my bunk roster and saw the incredible group of high school students I was in charge of for the weekend. Huge shoutout to Cloud 9, the best bunk out there! As we were unpacking our bags in our bunks I visibly saw the excitement in my bunk members when they were in awe of the sweatshirts given to them and were excited to make a Camp Rock TikTok. It was at that moment that I knew this weekend was going to be exciting.
Our days were filled with leadership activities centered around growth and exploration of identity. From my perspective, identity is the internal label we place on ourselves: it is composed of life experiences, preferences, and abilities. Identity can be a confusing topic, but luckily we heard from outstanding guest speakers, including some of our own Team Mentors, who showed us the power of exploring identity. In my role, I got to lead an activity investigating how diversity affects our identities as leaders. Prior to the Retreat another Team Mentor and I, Aneesha Nayak, met over Zoom to plan this activity. We knew we wanted to make something tangible surrounding the topic of diversity and identity. The Tree of Diversity idea hit us and we met over Zoom for a few weeks coming up with components of identity and diversity and understanding the cross-section between them. At the Retreat, we had conversations with a group of 8-10 and brought the Tree of Diversity with all of our aspects of leadership to life. During the actual activity we wrote different parts of our identities that related to diversity on small pieces of construction paper and then put those pieces together to compose a tree. Our goal with this activity was to have people understand how diversity, identity, and leadership are all connected. Throughout the weekend, we also had a ton of fun tie-dying, playing kickball, having dance parties, and singing karaoke.
My favorite part of the entire Retreat was the affinity group I led alongside the amazing Riley’s Way Executive Director, Dr. Christine O’Connell, and fellow Team Mentor, Aneesha. Our affinity group was centered around Young Leadership. We talked very deeply about Gen Z leaders and the aspects of them we adore. We then evaluated what we could do in our lives to achieve those aspects. Each participant wrote a letter to their future self outlining what they hoped to accomplish and become a year from now with those aspects in mind. During this inspiring discussion I learned so much about the power young leaders have, especially when it comes to naivety. I understood how to use other people’s perception of my naivety in my favor. Christine put it best, “young people can learn how to use other people’s perception of naivety for the better.” That was a powerful lesson that I hope everyone in our affinity group took.
At the end of the Retreat, I was astonished by the growth each of the high school students had achieved. I also took so much from the Retreat including how to make a Camp Rock tiktok, tools in exploring my own identity, and a community of young changemakers that inspire me to stay a part of Riley’s Way. You could see the community and commitment to kind leadership each person had there. The Riley’s Way Youth Leadership Retreat will always be a special place harboring young leadership with kindness at the forefront.