OK, maybe for some of us summer camp calls up nightmarish memories of bullying, wedgies, and insect bites. Not so for the four women behind Camp Ten Trees: They loved camp. And now they're starting up the Northwest's first queer-oriented summer camp for kids.
This August, the founders hope to welcome 15 to 25 queer teenagers for a week at Lake Wenatchee, near Leavenworth. They are also planning a separate week for kids of queer parents. "Our goal is to create a space that youth will consider their own," says 24-year-old Debs Gardner, a Ten Trees director.
Meeting up in Westlake Park recently to chat before a Seattle Storm game, the four co-directors exude that sporty, upbeat granola-and-good-times attitude that is the mark of a born camp counselor. They're fairly bursting with optimism about their nonprofit project. Ten Trees was born not from any negative recollections of their own alienation among straight campers but rather from the experience of camp as a place to grow and express oneself. "It was a time for me to be independent. I was away from my family and could explore who I was," says Michelle Malkin, 28, who grew up in Illinois and does strategic planning for local nonprofit groups. "There are a lot of issues of safety out in the woods. You have to learn to trust other people. Some of the best friends in my life came from camp."
"People's eyes light up" when they hear about the camp, says Gardner, who works for Camp Fire Boys and Girls. "They get teary eyed and say, 'I wish there'd been something like that when I was a kid.'"
Camp Ten Trees will have the usual activities, such as arts and crafts, sports, and 'smores, but it will also offer discussions on identity, school experiences, and other issues. "It can be hard to talk about having two moms," says Shira Rosen, 27, a youth-development program manager in the low-income Highline neighborhood. "We wanted to create a place where they could feel safe and get to know other kids who are coming from the same situation." However, unlike other "family" camps for queer parents and their kids, Ten Trees is for youth only, with no parents allowed.
The founders investigated a number of area campsites but were told by a couple of organizations, such as the YMCA, "that we probably wouldn't be welcome," says Leah Van Eenwyk, 26. Camp Fire Boys and Girls, on the other hand, were happy to host Ten Trees. And what about that name? It's meant to invoke the hoary one-in-ten estimate, explains Debs Gardner, adding with a laugh, "It's shorter than Camp My Mom's a Dyke, though we like that one too!"
WITH AUGUST approaching, Gardner and her three cohorts are busy raising money and recruiting campers. "We probably all average out to a full-time person," says Van Eenwyk, who teaches eighth grade in Issaquah. "If I have to get certified to teach archery, that could take a weekend."
The founders are putting the word out through local community centers, such as Lambert House and Stonewall Recovery, and they have also sent brochures to high schools, social service agencies, and religious organizations. However, Malkin notes, "We don't have as many scholarships as we would wish." Tuition will be $325, but the founders are hoping to give as many kids as possible the experience, regardless of their ability to pay, since, as Malkin observes, "This may not be a camp that the family necessarily supports."
The founders have already won a grant from the Pride Foundation. Dance fund-raisers and Drag King shows have been held for the camp, and there have been ticket-sale promotions with the Seattle Storm. "We're trying to get community members to have wine and cheese parties," Malkin says. The camp is also seeking donations of supplies.
"A lot of these kids are future leaders," says Malkin. "We want to give them a real positive experience just before school." In addition, she observes, "We're looking five to seven years out. We've had this 'gay-by boom'—and, in a few years, this camp is going to be their summer!"
Camp Ten Trees can be reached at 568-6638 or by e-mail at email@example.com. The Web site is www.geocities.com/camptentrees. The camp's one-week session for children (ages 8-13) of GLBT parents begins Sun., Aug. 19. The one-week session for GLBTQ questioning youth (ages 13-17) begins Sun., Aug. 26.