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Reflections on a Year of Camp Yampire

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

This March has been a hard one for me as a New Yorker and as a human on this earth - a lot of death and mourning make their way around the corner to an anniversary, and with that anniversary comes the reflection on lost loved ones and a return to intense, shared grief for those who lost coworkers, friends, and family members to Covid. We are still in the middle of a pandemic, and it feels so surreal to type that I have not stepped foot outside of my apartment since I last stepped indoors on March 9th, 2020 - the isolation in our tiny NYC apartment has been challenging to say the least, but Pie and I still count ourselves lucky and privileged to be able to live and work entirely indoors while many others did not have the ability to do so. My eternal thanks goes to those essential workers who were out there kicking ass and keeping the city, and our world, moving towards better days. The past year has been devastating for many, painful for most, and tough for all, and my heart goes out to each and every one of you who may be reading this and reflecting on your own losses and pain. Please know that you are not alone. Yet, in the midst of all of the death, sickness, ignorance, bigotry, and racism that we have seen in 2020, we rise together in 2021, doing the best we can to make the most of it all with what we've got, and moving forward with cautious optimism that this year is gonna be better. Personally, I have seen more creativity in virtual spaces than I ever thought I could, and that has humbled my initial thoughts that virtual connection just "isn't the same" as in person connection. Do I miss hugging people? Absolutely - and for now, that aspect can't be harnessed via video chat. But really, it all comes down to mindset when you join an online event, class, or family get-together - if you go into something and think it's going to be just another boring zoom happy hour, you will log off, unsatisfied and feeling like your assumption was correct. You will never "get" the appeal of virtual events, because you don't wish to.

But to those who chose to dig in, get creative, and work hard to embrace not just an alternative to in-person connection, but an entirely new way of working, learning, and playing with others when they are not face to face? Well, that level of creativity and kindness is absolutely incredible to think about, and I can't thank you enough for going on this journey with us at Camp Yampire! For me, the online connections - and new friends - that I made on Zoom in 2020 changed my life.

Each and every camper who took the time to take a chance on Camp Yampire, in all it's wonderful weirdness, were a much-welcomed balm that kept me from succumbing to my own feelings of loneliness, isolation, and soul-crushing anxiety. When the world was a very dark place, we were bringing our collective lights online, and finding like-minded individuals who just wanted to put some good out into the world - and our lights became brighter as we grew and learned together. Our last blog post was written for Camp Yampire 4.0, which took place in May of 2020. Since then, we had a Memorial Day camp weekend, an arts-themed camp weekend, a virtual State Fair, and even a Halloween weekend celebration with Camp Yampire 10! We then took our online endeavor to Friendsgiving in November, and even celebrated the holidays together with the "12 Days of Holiday Joy" in December. It helped fill so many voids that would have been, since we weren't traveling, or even leaving the apartment, to see loved ones. Our holidays in 2020 were happy ones, with new friends, and precious old ones, joining us for online fun.

Camp Yampire is not my job (it's a volunteer-led, labor of love), but Camp Yampire was, and currently is, all of my free time. It's where I choose to socialize, laugh, play, learn, and grow with incredible individuals from around the globe. And that Zoom fatigue that everyone keeps saying is a thing? Not once, in these now twelve full camp weekends that can go 12 hours non-stop in a day, have I experienced it. When you're having fun, your brain reacts differently to the Zoom fatigue. While I don't deny it exists and most certainly have experienced it during webinars and work zoom calls, I don't shy away from creating these virtual spaces because again, the fun provided neutralizes any fatigue felt on my end. I believe combatting that dreaded Zoom fatigue requires a mindset of expecting a release from stress and a time of fun with your video call. That mindset, coupled with the important skills of resilience and imagination, are the secret to actually loving online events, rather than possibly dreading them. So many campers left our camp weekends saying, "I never thought I could be on Zoom that long! Time went by so quickly!" And I can't agree with that sentiment more.

April 4th, 2021, will officially mark a year of Camp Yampire, since we opened our virtual doors to the public and said, let's take a chance on absolute strangers and see if we can create some fun, embrace some nostalgia, and bring people a reason to smile and laugh in the face of incredible personal challenges and pain. I myself was mourning for most of the spring and summer, yet the idea of having something to look forward to on Zoom that wasn't work - or an obligation - gave me hope, and inspired me wholeheartedly. For those of you that joined us last year, I hope it brought you some joy as well. Sure, there were some who logged on to Camp Yampire, decided "this isn't for me," and logged off. They saw what we were doing as a bandaid in the wait to "return to normal" and would rather just pause any new contact (choosing isolation or their "social pods"), because new was scary, or stressful - and I get it. I can empathize with that. But I also believe we must push back against our fears if we feel we have the strength to do so - and so Pie and I, we put ourselves out there every month to tell the world, "We don't know you yet, but we are here for you. We have no ulterior motive than to bring you a smile. We want to meet you and say hello and tell you you're awesome, because THAT'S the normal we aim to create - a world of non-judgmental, unconditional friendship and friendly love for our fellow humans."

And that mindset, as well as our desire to keep Camp Yampire 100% free, is weird to some - so many approached me online to discuss sponsorships, or scold me for not wanting to charge a damn cent for our incredible programming we were offering on Zoom. I was called not only naïve, but stupid. Their minds were focused on money, but ours were more on mending - mending hearts and minds to encourage and uplift when the world was making each and every one of us feel a little alone and more than a little helpless. After all, doesn't one feel stronger when they are sharing the burden rather than shouldering it ourselves? That's something far more precious than money (and yes, I know money has purpose, but that's why I thankfully have my full-time job to pay those bills.)

It would have tarnished the concept of Camp Yampire to charge even one dollar for one of our events. We worked hard to make sure the activities we hosted could be done for free, or for very low cost (and if there was a cost for us, we had to find a way to use it outside of camp to justify said cost). Camp Yampire was our no-strings attached gift to the world that grew into something wonderful, and we were excited to collaborate with Guest Camp Counselors around the world who felt the same. They volunteered their time and talent to keep things fresh and so amazingly fun!

We also had our 15min of fame being featured on Oprah Mag, TimeOutNY, and NY1, but that was never our goal, either. We loved that people were getting the word out, but only so much that we had a full house on Zoom with cool new campers to connect with each month! We appreciate all of those who "liked" and shared our events - you were an incredible example of grassroots organizing in an online event space, and we hope you will continue to share our events, as we grow and evolve in 2021. We cannot do this without each and every one of you, so if no one has told you this today, know you are important, and we value your presence on this earth, and we're so glad we found you on this virtual space. When you are a part of Camp Yampire, you are part of a weird and wonderful virtual family, one that likes you, flaws, pain, and all. So, cheers to better days and brighter horizons, Camp Yampire fam, and to an idea, born from pain, that became a force of knowledge, encouragement, and hope for many - myself and that cool guy Pie, included. We most certainly made the most of our time indoors together in 2020, and I can't thank you enough for that. Be well, know you're awesome, and we hope to see you soon at Camp Yampire. 💖 Love & Light, Yam

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