20110928

Almost Dateless for Junior Prom


Two weeks before junior prom and I still do not have a date. The is true for three of my closest gal-pals too. After much discussion, we finally decide to take matters into our own hands and start forming a plan.

The four of us are taking an intensive calculus class that meets every day for an hour and a half. There are about 20 people in the class and after spending the better part of a year together, we have grown pretty close. It doesn’t take long to divy up who we will choose. We quickly list the men in the class and eliminate the ineligible ones: Senior (not Junior), in a relationships, unattractive, too nerdy, etc. We end up with a list of about 5 guys. Then we each pick the guy we’re going to ask out. After a few days of planning, the big Thursday morning finally arrives.

Maggie (who intends to go stag) rallies our picks by the nook where my group of friends typically congregates. After lining the four men up in the appropriate order, she cues us to enter. We march in single file--signs in tow--until we are each standing in front of our respective picks. After glancing from left to right we flip our signs that each have one word on them: PROM: - BE - MY - DATE?

After some uncomfortable laughter from the boys three of us got a “yes” along with grins from ear to ear all around. None of our matches lasted past prom night but made for a memorable evening and an even more memorable story.

Girls from Left to Right: Ashley, Kaleena, Megan, Sarah, and Maggie

20110927

Summer Camp Beyond Belief

One by one each camper takes turns roasting a marshmallow over the campfire. For some it is their first time. It is an unusually cold June in Clarksville, OH so the campfire is fantastically warming. The counselors stand by and occasionally offer a guiding hand to the first-timers while simultaneously reminding the big kids not to play in the fire.

Camp Quest is a traditional summer camp with a slight twist: it is for children of freethinking parents. Who are freethinkers? Tons of labels fall under the heading of “freethinker” including Atheist, Humanist, or Agnostic but a freethinker is ultimately someone who holds a naturalistic (rather than a supernatural) world view. In addition to all the usual summer camp activities (swimming, team games, archery, and canoeing) Camp Quest also spends time exploring the mind through critical thinking, scientific exploration, philosophy, and comparative religion.  Fellow camp counselor and future camp director, Chuck Wolber, tells me, “Camp Quest provides the opportunity for inquisitive children to explore the boundaries of their minds.”

I first became aware of this camp when I was sharing my current profession (working for an after-school program for kids living in the public housing projects) with Camp Quest Ohio Director, August Brunsman, at a conference we were both attending. I could see his ears perk up when I mentioned that I worked with kids. “Kaleena?” he asked gingerly, “would you be willing to join my staff as a camp counselor this summer?” I told him I would think about it but completely forgot until I received a nagging email in my inbox a couple weeks later. With my “just say yes” attitude towards life I said “Yes!” and jumped in feet first to an incredible and unforgettable week.

Early on during the camp session, each cabin was tasked with creating a skit that would debut on the final night of camp. My cabin was full of 10-12 year old girls, which turned out to be a fun age for creating skits, as they came up with all sorts of imaginative scenarios. Our prompt, “How would the world be different if the majority of the population was non-religious?” (as opposed to religious as it currently is) generated some fascinating discussions among my young campers. As we watched the skits the final night, my fellow counselors and I were astounded to find that nearly all of the cabins included gay rights issues as the primary focus of their skits. These kids are not only smart but are also excited about becoming engaged in their communities for real social change.

Executive Director, Amanda Metskas, tells me her story of how she fell into her job working with Camp Quest, Incorporated--the umbrella organization to the dozen (and growing) individual chapters sprinkled across the country and around the globe.
I first found out about Camp Quest when my partner invited me to dinner with founders Edwin and Helen Kagin. Edwin signed me up to be volunteer camp counselor that night. After working as a camp counselor for several years at the Camp Quest in Ohio, I joined the board for Camp Quest, Inc. in 2004. I became president of the board in 2005 and then in 2007 proposed adding a paid position to the non-profit. I filled that position in 2008. With my degrees in International Relations, Political Science, and Psychology, I’ve never done anything like this, but it has turned out to be a perfect fit for me.
As the sole paid staff member for Camp Quest, Metskas spends her days as the jack-of-all-trades by fundraising for the organization as well as updating and coordinating the chapter organizations. She serves as secretary, treasurer, public relations manager, and webmaster all rolled into one.

When I asked her what her favorite part of the job was, she answered “Easy. Playing with the kids. They are amazing. I love watching how they work together and I love providing a safe environment for the campers to have a safe place to just be kids. This is a place that tell kids, ‘It is OK to question everything.’” This strongly paralleled to my own experience with Camp Quest. During my week with these extraordinary kids I heard stories of them being chastised and bullied repeatedly again by their peers back home for being different and for daring to question the status quo. One camper (age 11) even told me, “I love Camp Quest because for one week of the year I get to just be me.” As a first-time counselor, the lasting relationships the campers had formed through attending camp year-after-year were obvious, and the same was true of the tightly knit staff--most of whom had started as campers at this 15-year-old camp themselves.

The final morning of camp is a bitter-sweet one. The campers are excited to see their families, but sad to leave their new friends as well as the safe haven of camp. One parent tells Metskas, “Oh great, I hate this part. We dread the weeks after camp because our daughter mopes around the house wishing she were back at camp. Can we somehow skip to next year? Or better yet, can you have Camp Quest year-round?”

I cannot wait to go back next year and as the season is changing to fall, June of 2012 seems impossibly far away.

20110907

Returning to My Yoga Practice

It has been several months since I have practiced yoga and even longer since I practiced regularly. Tonight I am taking a class at CorePower Yoga on Broadway. When I walk into the studio, I am instantly hit with oppressive heat and humidity. “Wait. This is a heated yoga class?”, I ask myself and after deciding to stay and brave the heat proceed to find some floor space just big enough for my two foot by six foot mat in the already full room. The only other time I have been in a heated yoga class was several years ago and I barely survived the class. The room for that class was heated to a wimpy 80 degrees while this class will be 92 degrees. The hardwood floor in the studio combined with my thinner-than-average yoga mat make me acutely aware of my broken tailbone when I am sitting and the hours I spent dancing in high-heel shoes over the weekend when I’m standing.

I am already sweating at the start of the class from my two-mile bike ride and it only gets worse. The heat and humidity are supposed to be cleansing for the body but they just make feel agitated. As we flow through our sun salutations I am sweating to the point that sweat is dripping from my body onto my mat. This makes my mat slippery and the positions hard to hold. Miraculously I had a handkerchief in my backpack that proves to be an effective sweat rag to mop up my drippy face. I am not alone. Everyone seems to be struggling and can not wait for the “core” portion of the class where we get to lay on the floor and focus on our core muscles (and simultaneously get a small break).

I try to keep my eyes on my own mat as I have been told to do over and over again in previous classes but I can not help but judge the other people in the room and know they are judging me too. I am the largest person in the room but it is obvious to me that I am also one of the most flexible and strongest too. There are just a handful of men out of the 30 or so students taking the class and every one of them is shirtless. I like inventing stories about the other students. Every studio has a different personality and the feeling I get from this one is corporate, rich and white. I wonder if I will be asked to leave since I am not wearing the latest apparel.

The woman on the mat next to mine keeps staring and smiling throughout the class. It is not until the end of the class that she finally talks to me and reminds me how we know each other. We met a few weeks ago while I was apartment hunting and she was one of my potential new roommates. We deem each other new found “yoga buddies” and I leave wondering who I’ll bump into next while humming “It’s a small world after all”.