Last week, I was a man of the mountains. Though it's not what you might think.
First of all, allow me to explain why I've missed a few (as in, many) weeks on this blog. Life has taken me by a storm:
Specifically, a bit over one month ago, a nonprofit I have volunteered with in the past contacted me asking for help. Their annual summer program - a week-long arts camp for young people affected by and infected with HIV/AIDS - was coming up, and they were still missing an integral member of the leadership team. I was planning to volunteer for a day or two at the camp this year, but with my summer work schedule did not think I would be able to make it up for the entire camp. But, despite my best effort to avoid any additional commitments this summer, they needed me. So, I went.
Starting in early July, I dropped everything (well, not everything, but unfortunately blogging was one of those things), rearranged my work scheduled and focused on preparing for camp.
And it was worth it. Last week was magical.
Camp Hollywood HEART is a week-long arts camp held in the high mountains of Malibu for young people ages 15-20 directly impacted by HIV/AIDS. The program is a partnership between two organizations I have worked with for many years as both an artist and AIDS activist: One Heartland and Hollywood HEART.
This summer, as I have in the past, I led Creative Writing - one of seven arts that the campers can choose to focus on for the week. Through daily workshops, we teach, we bring in industry leaders and we create. We focus not on perfect technique, but on what it means to express oneself through art.
Six strong young women chose Creative Writing and, along with counselors, we very quickly became a close-knit family. We supported one another's vulnerability in an artistically freeing and stigma-free environment, making space for authentic storytelling. It was an emotional week, with many hugs and showers of tears. Each participant had a creative and emotional breakthrough that brought them closer to their individual trials and tribulations, and more in touch with accessing their artistic talents. The days we spent together were life-changing for them, as it was, no doubt, for me.
As I embark on my summer prerequisites for Anderson - calculus homework, so much career preparation, and did I mention the accounting pre-read? - it is impossible to look at my life and complain, even for a moment. These young people, in their short years, have encountered so many unthinkable challenges - debilitating health issues, poverty, abuse, abandonment, death, the list goes on - and have still emerged resilient and confident. I am humbled by their strength.
Away from the world, at the top of the mountain, each summer we create a space at Camp that is open and free. For me, Camp allows me to reconnect with reality. Before I head off to business school, filled with numbers and case studies, I needed to look in the eyes of a struggling teenager and tell her everything would be ok. I needed to reconnect with the world out there. I needed something tangible.
The mountain in Malibu allows us, each summer, to stand up high and see society from above. It lets us remember that we play just but a small role in this huge world. And it also reminds us that we are not alone.
- Devon Dickau, MBA '15