A Summer Camp in San Francisco That Prepares Students for Life

Northwest  |  November 4, 2022
Tzu Chi volunteers in San Francisco hold their 2021 summer camp for students aged 13 to 22, with the theme of "Youth Warriors." Photo/Lulu Yin

Written by Christina Chang
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

Tzu Chi volunteers in San Francisco have long been active in the Bayview Hunters Point School District. They run annual summer camps to give students, mainly from African-American and Mexican-American working families, a place to go during the summer and an opportunity for extended learning. The volunteers have been operating the camp in the community for 12 years, with campers currently ranging primarily from high school to college students. Over time, the volunteers thoughtfully adjust the program to accommodate changes in the world around them, and within the students so the camp can evolve as they grow up. 

According to volunteer Shuyun Huang, Tzu Chi summer camp activities focus on “gratitude, respect, and love,” these fundamental principles are always at the root. However, since the 2021 summer camp expanded the participant age group to encompass from 13 to 22, from middle school to college, the organizers also adapted the activities. Considering the participants in the 2021 camp, they chose “Youth Warriors” as the theme.

The program asked the campers to reflect on questions such as, “Who are you?” and “What do you want to do?” helping the older ones learn to manage themselves to become the person they want to be. Shuyun summarized the intended educational experience as, “Learning to manage oneself, to cooperate with others, to understand the needs of the outside, use the skills one has learned to find a job in the community and serve the community.”

The summer camp program helps participants understand themselves through inner exploration and group discussion. Photo/Courtesy of Lulu Yin

A Innovative Program That Builds Connection and Community

Volunteer Tiffany Liu was responsible for designing the camp’s program. She wanted to create a program that fits the American lifestyle while also incorporating the humanistic spirit of Tzu Chi. After submitting a program plan to the municipality’s projects department, the City of San Francisco provided a $10,000 grant to fund the camp.

Volunteer Tiffany Liu is the camp's program designer, who created a new and innovative learning experience. Photo/Courtesy of Lulu Yin

The camp is held every Saturday and Sunday for seven weeks before schools open in early August. The program incorporates meditation, yoga, games, and group discussions. Campers start by understanding inner feelings and oneself, then learn how to work with others and connect with society. At the same time, the program teaches how to lead a vegetarian life to achieve a natural balance between mind, body, and spirit and live in harmony with all beings.

Summer campers learn to balance mind and body through yoga. Photo/Courtesy of Lulu Yin

“It was amazing to see all these children from different ethnic groups in the community coming together, shaking hands, hugging each other, developing new friendships, and inspiring each other,” shared volunteer Wendy Liu. She continues to say that, “The camp’s greatest achievement is that we discovered how the purest compassion can bring out so much love and that the goodness that might not have existed in this community before emerged at the camp.”

The art class emphasizes group creativity and mutual brainstorming. Photo/Courtesy of Lulu Yin

The camp’s daily routines of meditation, yoga, vegetarianism, and team collaboration are, in fact, the respect for the “Four Graces” emphasized by Buddhist Scripture and Tzu Chi Humanities, which comprise gratitude to heaven and earth, parents, teachers, and all earthly beings for the nourishment of one’s vitality and livelihood. 

As volunteer Shuyun Huang stressed, by “applying Buddhism in contemporary life and presenting a new look of Tzu Chi 2.0,” Buddhism no longer appeared as an ancient and inaccessible path. Essentially, the camp’s program was advancing a fresh and new way to interpret the spirit of this spiritual tradition.

The campers collaborate when completing artwork thus learning the spirit of cooperation. Photo/Courtesy of Lulu Yin

A Dedicated Teaching Team

In terms of teachers at the camp, volunteer Tiffany Liu leveraged her connections and invited professional and enthusiastic friends who volunteered their time and help. On summer weekends, young volunteer partners from all over the United States – from New Jersey in the Eastern U.S., Chicago in the Midwest, and Los Angeles on the West Coast – served the older children of the Hunters Point community at the camp alongside local Tzu Chi San Francisco volunteers.

Young volunteer partners gather from all over the United States to work together on summer weekends and serve the older children of the Hunters Point community. Photo/Lulu Yin

Raymond Lin, 29, was born and raised in the Bay Area and now works for a technology company in San Francisco. Since 2018, he has devoted every weekend to the San Francisco Community Food Bank distribution service and has never missed a day. Over the years, he has been a big brother that every child in this community knows. 

Since 2018, Raymond Lin has been involved in community services in San Francisco every weekend and never misses a day of volunteering. Photo/Lulu Yin

Participating in the seven-week summer camp program as a counselor, he expressed his heartfelt feelings, saying, “The kids in the community all have the same struggles I experienced when I was a teenager. I’m happy to share and guide them through the path I’ve been on. They also shared their life experiences that were new to me and provided me with a little more insight into people from different backgrounds and lives.”

Attending the Camp Was a Family Affair

Three siblings attended  the 2021 summer camp together, and shared their thoughts about the learning experience.

Three siblings, Tony, Angela, and Tommy Harper, all attend the summer camp together. Photo/Lulu Yin

Tony James Harper, an 18-year-old high school graduate, has been cared for by Tzu Chi volunteers for 12 years, starting from kindergarten through high school. After the camp, he said, “I loved the program activities. Everything it teaches me can be used in my daily life, particularly cooking. I learned how to make hamburger patties and burrito fillings with vegetarian meat. These are all practical courses.”

Tony James Harper (second left, wearing a red shirt) enjoys the vegetarian cooking course, glad he can use what he learns at the camp in his daily life. Photo/Lulu Yin

Angela Harper, Tony’s younger sister, entering 11th grade after the summer, was also happy she attended the camp.  She shared that, “I learned a lot about different views and perspectives, such as how to give and receive between people, how to participate, and how to understand how I should relate and interact with others.”

Tommy Harper, the eldest of the three who attends California State University, expressed that the sense of family at the camp extended beyond the presence of his siblings, as being with his favorite Tzu Chi volunteers and the new friends he made added to the feeling. Within this warm and familial atmosphere, he could expand his capacity to meet the challenges that life would bring, saying, “The activities here helped me get out of my comfort zone and taught me how to face pressure. I am glad to have such an opportunity and such experiences. I’m thankful for the assistance of Tzu Chi volunteers.”

As campers from different cultural backgrounds learn to cook vegetarian food together, they cultivate a unifying bond. Photo/Lulu Yin

Offering Persistent Care in Bayview Hunters Point

Tzu Chi volunteers in San Francisco have served in the Bayview Hunters Point community and school district since 2009 and set up a “Happy Campus” team in the school in 2010. They continually offer academic counseling, strive to cultivate environmental awareness, and provide the summer camp that prepares participants for society through the development of self-awareness. While adhering to a consistent humanistic spirit, the volunteers accompany the children and youth as they grow towards adulthood, adding new elements and adjusting their programs along the way.

Students have a great time during the vegetarian cooking class at the 2021 summer camp. Photo/Lulu Yin

Through your love and support, we can maintain and expand such inner-city educational programs and provide vital charity aid to support underprivileged students along their path towards the hopeful future they wish for and deserve.

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