Transformers / Billy Miller

“Sticks,” a big and tall high school senior from rural Oregon, leads a spirited game of “All My Homeys.” Like in musical chairs, the point for people in the circle is to move to an open seat when the leader announces something true for them. At the center is Sticks (his Caldera camp name), hoping to invoke the mad scramble with a question that is not only universal, but meaningful.

It’s an experiential learning activity he’s played countless times since middle school at Caldera, the youth and environmental arts camp in Central Oregon and year-round program in Central Oregon and Portland. Only this time, those he’s leading are innovative youth program directors and staff from all over the country, who fill their days in service of young people just like him. 

Photo Credit: Miracle

They’ve come to the Cascade Mountains and Caldera for Transformation Camp, a three-day symposium where like-minded organizations from Venice Arts to New York’s Ghetto Film School can compare ideas and hear from leaders in neuroscience, digital media and national policy while sharing best practices. But what seems most extraordinary is they’re pitching ideas directly to the young people they put at the center of their work.

In this case, they’re making their pitch to high schoolers in Caldera’s apprentice program (where I mentor in filmmaking).  Since they represent any kids these programs serve, let’s hear from them what works:

White Flower: “We all think of what we can’t do … let’s think of what we can do and work from there. … It may take baby steps but they’ll be big baby steps.”

Sticks: “Put us in a situation where we’re going to fail … so we can figure our way out.”

Lulu: “[Push us] To step outside our comfort zones, try new things and be leaders. … Transformation Camp opened my eyes to how much adults care and put effort into the youth.” 

Miracle: “It’s important for us to act outward in our communities and treat others how we’ve been treated.”

IDK: “I like how they treated me as a young adult. I can see myself as one of them in the future. … So encourage us to go to college, help us find resources, give us examples of people who’ve done great things but come from our backgrounds, too. Most of all, encourage us and show us love. Watch — we’ll love you back.”

Komodoconda: “The people from Caldera support me and help me learn about myself. It’s the people [in a program] who change minds and open hearts.”

Message delivered, all ten programs gathered agree to an alliance with young people on the steering committee and to grow capacity to meet growing need. They’re still working on challenges as we take the kids home to schoolwork and a complicated world, where Arts funding may soon be drastically cut in favor of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). It’s suggested to add an “A” for Arts to generate STEAM. And Sticks advises, “The solution will come, just be patient.”

Find more on Transformation Camp and Caldera at

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