Longmont Nonprofit ABLE to Sail Holds Second LGBTQ Camp Via Grant and Pay-what-you-can System
Diane McKinney gathered a group of about 20 teenagers in a circle Tuesday at Union Reservoir and started giving her daily energetic pep talk to the LGBTQ campers about why they are enough.
McKinney started her nonprofit ABLE to Sail in order to empower kids and teens by teaching them to sail. The official organization name is A Better Life Experience for Youth. This is the sixth year the nonprofitoffered summer camps.
McKinney started her pep talk about being different with a personal anecdote about being a shy teen growing up with a mother who liked to show her off to bridge club friends, hard as that might be for everyone at Union Reservoir to believe. She paced in circles Tuesday as she delivered her pep talk, all sun-tanned intensity and energy with her sleeveless t-shirt showing off her ‘I am enough’ bicep tattoo.
She scraped three lines that met in the middle into the sand with a sandaled foot.
“All my life, I had three basic beliefs ... Something is wrong with me, I’m not good enough and no one wants me,” she said, pointing out the lines. “See, we are storytellers, all the way back to caveman days ... and when we don’t know something, we make shit up and call it real.”
McKinney detailed how snowballing negative thoughts and how a series of small slights in real life can lead someone to believe they’re not wanted or not good enough. Making that false connection still releases feel-good chemicals like dopamine in the brain because humans feel like they have accomplished something by solving that puzzle, she said.
“We love to close that circle, even if it hurts. The more you believe something, it makes a deeper and deeper groove in your brain and when something happens, you go back to that groove and believe it more and more,” she said. “We want to give you the tools to pull out of that and make new pathways. We want to empower you to act courageously, act bravely so we can find the trust in ourselves to become anew.”
The teens nodded and headed over to get fitted for lifejackets and watched McKinney demonstrate with a model boat and two teddy bears the day’s lesson — recovering after a vessel capsizes.
“Everything we do is about physically learning something so your mind knows what to do,” McKinney said. “We learn how to capsize so that when they capsize in life, they know how to get back up.”
This week’s LGBTQ camp hits close to home for McKinney, who is lesbian. She said she feels she can relate to the teens because she has been through some of what they are going through.
“I know what it feels like to be them. Not completely, because there are terms now like trans and look — when I was coming up, it was LGB. But I think they believe me more when I talk to the group,” she said.
This year’s LGBTQ camp is the second such exclusive camp the nonprofit has been able to host. Last year, Out Boulder County received a grant that allowed ABLE to Sail to fund all of the attendees. This year, without that grant, McKinney wasn’t sure she would be able to put on a second LGBTQ camp without losing money.
Fortunately, the organization received a $5,000 grant from the Left Hand Giving Circle, which allowed McKinney to keep the camp going on a “love donation” basis this year. McKinney wrote on her website that the four-day camp usually costs $295 per camper, but told parents to pay what they could. McKinney didn’t want anyone turned away from the camp because of an inability to pay.
Tyler Zeid, 13, said this year is his second year attending the ABLE to Sail camp and he was grateful that it is around.
“The first year I was pretty uncomfortable, but I met a couple of friends who were also trans and it’s nice to be around other people because you feel not so alone and safer around a group of people I know will accept me for who I am,” he said.
Tyler said that he has battled depression and suicide attempts in the past and McKinney’s camps have helped him tremendously.
“She inspires me to be who I am,” he said.
Caylee H., an 18-year-old camper who declined to give her full last name, said her first camp experience is helping her with the difficult transition into adulthood.
“I have friendships now that I would have never thought I’d have outside of this ... it helps a lot actually because I don’t know too many people like me and not too many people are open about it. Everyone here is very open and refreshing,” she said, adding that her place in the LGBTQ community is “complicated” and she’s “still figuring it out.”
Brennan Cook, a 22-year-old camp staffer, said that he wishes the camp had been around when he was a teenager and thinking about transitioning from female to male.
“If I was attending this camp when I was 15 or 16, I would have transitioned earlier because I would have had a community of people that are going through the same struggle. I started transitioning when I was 19,” he said. “I would have felt safe to do so ...
“You know, youth deal with so much crap and daily drama, the camp is here to help them through life and not just teach them to sail and give them great summer friends,” he said. “It gives you confidence even when you don’t think you have any.”
Karen Antonacci: 303-684-5226, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/ktonacci