“Legacy made me realized that I really like helping people, being around people, and especially helping kids.”
Reflects Sarah Weber, a high school junior in Lancaster, California, looking back on her experiences as a participant and mentor at the All It Takes Leadership camps. Sarah wasn’t always so sold on the idea of taking such a social, influential role in life. In 8th grade, Sarah was a shy but sharp student, and after one of her teachers noticed her struggling after a personal tragedy at home, they invited her to join the schools group of ASB students who were attending an upcoming AIT Leadership Camp.
“I thought, I should check it out, and I had no intention of going. I was a very shy person and I didn’t want to put myself in a camp where I would have to be more outgoing, but I did some thinking and I decided I might as well go, what’s the harm in going?”
Camp was overwhelming. Back in 2016 when Sarah first attended, camp was hosted at Hess Kramer/Gindling Hilltop in Malibu. One of the challenges on the first day was for the group to hike to the upper camp site, straight up the ocean-facing side of a huge mountain. Sarah had asthma, and combined with her nerves of being around so many new people in an unfamiliar environment, the mountain seemed impossible to scale. Luckily, Sarah was able to find her strength by connecting with and choosing to trust a handful of mentors who hiked with her and gave her the patience and support she needed to get to the top. She reflects how one mentor in particular stayed with her throughout the entire hike.
“He was saying ‘you can do this, look at you, you’re going so far’. He’s why I made it up there, because I was literally going to just go back down the mountain.”
When Sarah made it to the top of the mountain, she felt invincible.
“I was so thrilled and it’s still one of those where I think about what I’ve accomplished in life and what I am proud of. I climbed that hill even though I was shy, I was awkward, and I was having a hard time climbing that hill. At that camp they gave us bracelets and when I wear that bracelet it makes me think of that hill and that I did it even though I thought I couldn’t.”
It wasn’t the only time Sarah relied on the mentors to find comfort and confidence among the otherwise rowdy crowd. All It Takes mentors are made up of passionate high school alumni and adult volunteers, who dedicate their time to supporting, protecting, and processing with youth during our camps. They’re always on the lookout for opportunities to connect with students, get to know them, and help them master their inherent leadership skills. These are the people who Sarah built the strongest bonds with.
“I didn’t know anyone, so I specifically sat at tables during meals where no-one else was sitting, and from what I remember, the mentors would usually sit next to me. It made me feel more comfortable, which was nice.”
Throughout the camp, Sarah gained social confidence with every activity.
“That first day I realized that I couldn’t be shy, well not that I couldn’t be shy, but the camp would be a lot harder if I was because I was terrified of asking questions.”
She realized she had to step out of her comfort zone if she wanted to participate fully, and was pleasantly surprised by the bonds she started forming with her peers as soon as she let her guard down. During the Cross The Line activity on the last night, Sarah was moved by getting to know her schoolmates on a completely new level.
“I realized I wasn’t alone, other people had these struggles and other people are going through hard stuff… it just made me more comfortable with my peers.”
It wasn’t until she left that the full effect of the Leadership Camp became clear to her.
“When we got back to school, some of the people that went (to camp) were in my class, so I started talking to them a lot more and when I needed help I would go to them… One of my closest friends went to that camp, and we didn’t talk a lot at camp, but that kind of helps on the basis of… we went through this together, we had Cross The Line and all that and now we’re really good friends.”
The camp couldn’t have come at a better time. Sarah would be starting high school soon, and the new boost in confidence and communication skills helped her thrive. She was still shy, and she was comfortable with it, but now she had the communication tools to lead her classmates in group projects, and she was confident in making new friends.
“I took a lot a cues from mentors, like how they would ask for opinions and how being a leader wasn’t just bossing people around…. I started being able to just talk, it was a lot easier to just talk to my teachers, it was a lot easier to make friends.”
The mentors Sarah had bonded with at camp had a lasting effect on her. A year later, when she was invited to apply as a mentor for All It Takes, she didn’t think she’d be chosen. She still considered herself too shy, too inexperienced to be able to help other kids through those tough moments.
“I felt like a kid still. How can I be a mentor when I’m still figuring things out?”
As a participant she viewed the mentors as these ‘superhuman people that knew how to solve every issue right away.’ She soon learned that the other mentors were just like her, and that mentoring is not always a breeze.
Sarah’s first camp as a mentor was a wonderful experience. She had a group of well behaved students who respected her, and she used the camp as an opportunity to grow her own leadership skills and have a great time. She couldn’t wait to do it again.
“The first year everybody was friendly, shy, they always listened to me and were always on time for everything. The second year I had to keep a handle on things, I had to really really really try to learn patience with some of the kids that didn’t want to listen and didn’t want to be with the group.”
Sarah’s second experience as a mentor challenged every bit of her patience. She’d been assigned to a group of students that never seemed to settle down, who made offensive jokes and teased of each other, and who disrespected her and the other mentors. Sarah tried to calmly reason with them, call them out on inappropriate behavior, and help them have a good and meaningful time, but then it got personal. They began to mock serious medical conditions, ignorant of the fact that someone close to Sarah is affected by it. Sarah couldn’t handle it any more. She explained the situation to her fellow mentors, the camp director Lori Woodley, and then went outside for some air.
“I felt so guilty for asking for help.”
Sarah felt like she had failed her group, but when Lori and the mentors sat down with the group and facilitated a conversation and eventual apology, Sarah knew asking for help was the right thing.
“It felt really nice because I feel like kids, or everyone at some point, need to realize that they’ve messed up and know how to do better. Some of the kids matured and started being a lot more respectful to me.”
The challenge of mentoring a group that didn’t want to be mentored was one that stayed with Sarah.
“Even a month after camp, I still felt guilty because I thought to myself ‘I couldn’t solve this problem on my own and I’m a failure of a mentor, how could I let this happen?’”
It was in that struggle that Sarah discovered the greatest lesson of all. Speaking to some of the other mentors who went to her school, she realized it wasn’t on her, she had done everything she could, and because of her, a lot of students in her group learned invaluable lessons about the effect their words can have on others. They had been called out, and had to face the emotional consequences of their actions. Sarah also chose to channel her frustrations into compassion for the students she wasn’t able to connect deeply with. Hearing some of her most difficult students share tragedies they’d lived through during Cross The Line gave her a new perspective.
“It was a good experience for me to realize that the kids who caused me trouble or were a little more rowdy, were the kids that you need to be the nicest to, because you never know what’s going on in their lives… Later in the camp, I realized that these kids are the ones that are going through it the most, you know they were going through some really tough stuff. Getting upset at them isn’t going to help anything.”
Through the great highs and frustrating lows of Sarah’s experiences at All It Takes, she’s grateful for it all. She enjoys school so much more than before because her confidence and ability to stand up for what she believes has led her to wonderful friendships and passionate hobbies. From school to her family, Sarah credits her ability to lead projects and communicate effectively with her time at All It Takes.
“My parents were proud of me for stepping out of my shell and now I’m a mentor, and they’re really proud of that.”
Sarah is more patient with herself in everything she sets out to accomplish. She’s now comfortable asking for help, because she learned that its necessary to work together to accomplish worthwhile goals. She’s always happy to jump in and help outsiders feel like they belong, knowing everyone deserves the chance for others to get to know them.
Sarah truly demonstrates how leadership has a variety of definitions. A student who was once too shy to even consider being a leader is now embracing her shy-ness and allowing it to be one of her strengths rather than her weakness.
“Any kind of support, even if it’s making jokes, or anything you can do to make them feel a tiny bit more comfortable with the situation, it’s worth doing.”