When I hit submit on my application for Youth of Canada’s OELC contest in January, I can’t say I knew exactly what I was signing up for. Let me explain. In my experience being involved with other youth organizations in the community, I only knew of OELC because of friends who spoke the world of the small camp in Longford Mills. I had seen their colourful sweaters, swiped through their photos, and watched their faces light up as they recounted their stories from the best summers of their lives. It was because of this that I knew, if my submission were selected, I would be in for an incredible leadership experience, but I came home with so much more than that.
During the one week I spent at OELC, not only did I meet the most incredible people, but I also dove head-first into an unfamiliar environment that changed the way I view the world for the better. The Secondary Athletics course I took part in focuses on developing students’ leadership skills through the medium of athletics. I have never defined myself as an athlete and, in the past, I have spent the majority of my time doing work in the arts and in leadership development. I felt intimidated in a sea of students whose "things" were sports - I was quickly introduced to some of the highest performing young athletes in Canada. Whether it was volleyball, rugby, or even jump rope, these people were the best at what they did, and it felt as though I didn't speak their language.
However, I quickly learned the true value of keeping an open mind and stepping out of my comfort zone. I met the girls in my cabin and we bonded over creating our nametags, doodling flowers around our names as we got to know one another. We paired with another cabin for a tour around the campgrounds, and I saw the winding path leading to the different sites, each that would eventually hold a different special memory for me. Cedar held the chairs where my leadership group and I would sit and discuss how to make our communities a better place. Alumni was framed with the flags of leaders who had come before me. Pike held the mats that I would later take the best nap of my life on. The dock facing the beautiful Lake Couchiching sat waiting for us to play and cool down during our free time.
Days at OELC started bright and early with an optional morning sport, some examples being beach volleyball, wheelchair basketball, and a polar-bear dip in the lake on the second-to-last morning. These were fairly non-competitive and inclusive sports periods that made it easy to meet new people. From there, we ate breakfast and travelled to our first periods, which could have been TGFU (teaching games for understanding, this period felt like learning games in gym class), Sport.org (organized and competitive sport), or Low Ropes. We also got free time during the day and, on certain days, a “Mind, Body, Recharge” period to take time for mindfulness activities!
The highlight of my days at OELC were having my LDAs, or Leadership Development Activities. The camp was split into smaller groups with whom we would all further explore topics in leadership. My group, Section C, was led by our two amazing Teacher Facilitators, Kira and Meg. We took part in what seemed like simple games together but had truly immense connections to the kinds of leaders that we are in real life. For example, we took part in an activity in groups of three where two people sat back-to-back. One person was given a simple photo to describe to a second person who was drawing out what they envisioned. The third group member did nothing but watch the artist draw a (usually very inaccurate) picture and had the option to switch out with the describer at allotted periods of time. I learned that when you delegate a task to someone in your group, but you do not follow up to see what they have done, there is no point to it as they could be straying from your expectations entirely.
Myself and my LDA group also worked as a team during various activities throughout the week. For one, we worked to plan our LGA (Large Group Activity) which the whole camp would take part in. It was incredibly exciting to apply our new skills in leadership to a real-life scenario of planning an event for your school. We even took part in an escape room together and solved it with only ten seconds left on the clock… What a feeling!
By the end of the week, I felt nothing short of grateful for the experience and the amazing people I have met. I realized that if I had stayed in my bubble of arts and clubs I would never have met some of my closest friends. OELC stands out from other camps I have attended in the past because I came home truly understanding how to apply my new skills. I created the framework for a new club at school as well as everything I'd need to do to start it. I bonded with everyone I met and grew as a person, but learned that my personal development could only happen because I allowed it to.
In my everyday life, I realized that sometimes I would give up without even realizing it. I'd have an idea for a new initiative but push it off and never complete it. I’d start planning a unique way of presenting an assignment but lose motivation and do it mechanically. I can say with confidence that my experience taught me to never get discouraged and always follow through with my plans, because when you do so, great things can happen. I am so grateful to OELC and Youth of Canada for changing my life for the better!
-- Jessica Sok,