By Jason Lee
More than 1,000 students from around the world took part in a four-day-long leadership program this week hosted by Huntington-based nonprofit International Youth Fellowship.
With events held across Long Island, including in Huntington, “World Camp” focused on helping students learn to improve their communication skills.
“IYF in general aims to open student’s hearts to help them make connections and get used to talking those around them,” said Glen Heil, an IYF spokesman. “The reason we do World Camp is we want youth to be able to have really open minds.”
The program started Aug. 17. About 1,350 students ranging in age from 11 to 25 were shuttled around Long Island to take part in team-building exercises, spiritual performances and hands-on training classes.
The camp is hosted at the Mahanaim campus in Huntington primarily, but events were also held at the Tilles Center at LIU Post in Old Westbury, Hecksher State Park in East Islip. The camp’s closing event, a musical performance by the Gracious Choir, will take place tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. at the Pennysaver Amphitheater in Farmingville.
Students went to four of 25 different academy classes throughout the week. The diverse classes ranged from practical lessons on making soap, hand lotions or personalized fragrances, to acting lessons, cooking classes and mixed-martial arts fitness courses.
They also listened to prominent guest speakers who are well known for perseverance in their fields, including Sandra Cauffman, the deputy system program director at NASA, and ESPN journalist Chris Broussard.
“What they share in common is they have a story to tell, not about their success, but about their journey,” Heil said about the speakers. “We are concerned more about the path not just the end result.”
Before the closing event tomorrow, students will attend IYF innovation academy, where business owners and entrepreneurs will man booths and talk to the students. “We want our students to get inspired by these different companies and individuals who had a great idea and carried through with the idea they had,” Heil said.
The first event on Aug. 17 was a scavenger hunt that took place on IYF’s Mahanaim campus and at establishments along New York Avenue. The students were put into teams of no more than 10 and had to use clues to find and complete challenges like word problems or taking selfies in front of different landmarks.
“We want to put them in an environment where they will have no choice but to open up and work with each other" said Heil.
Volunteer teacher Jeane-Claude Michel Jr. and his middle school team, Challenge 24 had to work together to figure out that their clue was leading them outside the gymnasium on the west side of campus. Once there the group had to solve a crossword puzzle and word search in order to get their next clue.
One of the program managers coordinating the scavenger hunt, Terry Henderson said, “when the students come they don’t know each other, they waste the whole day being uncomfortable. When we give them a task they get to know one another quicker. There is no time to be bashful.”
Bashfulness wasn’t a problem for 19-year-old volunteer Ryan Campbell from the country of Jamaica, who has been with the program for eight years. He previously attended World Camps in Haiti, Jamaica, Canada and here in New York.
“My favorite part of World Camp is when I see the students change,” said Campbell. “It’s touching for me to see the students happy doing the activities we set up for them.”
Richard Larkin, 25, has only been with the World Camp since last year. “The people are from all over the world. It’s very cool meeting everyone, you learn more about yourself and other people,” said Larkin. “I’m hoping to gain a different heart, being here helps me overcome difficulties.”
The World Camp originated in South Korea in 2001. Since then the program has expanded to different countries around the world.
New York is the only location in the United States to host World Camp this year, but next year Heil says IYF might host back-to-back events in both New York and Los Angeles. “It’s sweet, because there are students here from around the country,” Heil said. “Even if we split the region like we used to, it should still be a great turnout.”