LGBTQ2S+ youth build community, resilience at first Alberta-wide Camp fYrefly

Organizers of the first Alberta-wide Camp fYrefly in Kananaskis say the sense of community created among youth from across the province far outweighed the logistical challenge of hosting almost twice the usual number of participants at a single site.

The LGBTQ2S+ youth leadership camp, founded at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Education in 2004, consolidated this year from separate camps in Edmonton and Calgary to a single province-wide camp held at Camp Chief Hector YMCA near Canmore from June 30 to July 3. The province-wide camp was the result of a collaboration between the Faculty of Education and Calgary’s Centre for Sexuality.

Camp coordinator Hilary Mutch said the new facility, with its dedicated kitchen and maintenance staff, was ideal for hosting the 93 campers aged 13 to 20, and that the eclectic slate of youth-centred programming on top of the usual summer-camp activities meant there was something for everyone.

“It was just really wonderful to see the diversity of youth that were meeting each other and building community and learning,” Mutch said.

“We were able to find a great diversity of content, and it gave us the ability to host a lot of different discussions. We had everything from pug therapy to conversations about body positivity, conversations about veganism and vegetarianism, we included a lot of Indigenous content and had an elder-in-residence. We had a pipe ceremony and a teepee space where we did smudges, and I heard a lot of great conversations there.”

Strong supports for LGBTQ2S+ youth

A contingent of 24 youth leaders and 28 adult volunteers, many of whom had participated in previous camps, were on hand to help with the fYrefly’s expanded scope.

Campers with Pride Flag and inflatable firefly

“LGBTQ2S+ youth have such a variety of mental health needs and needs for support, so we do have quite a few volunteers to accommodate those needs,” Mutch said. “We created a support-specific space for counseling and medical challenges. It was a great opportunity to understand and incorporate the needs of LGBTQ2S+ youth from around the province. That will be really helpful in the future.”

Corey Wyness, project coordinator for the Comprehensive Health Education Workers’ Project based at the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services (iSMSS), returned to Camp fYrefly for his sixth year as a volunteer. He said he was delighted that the Centre for Sexuality could take the lead on organizing the expanded camp.

“We came together as two organizations and we made an amazing camp. We doubled the number of kids, but it went over amazingly well,” Wyness said. “It was a wonderful experience for me personally and professionally and I know we connected a lot of youth from all over the province.”

A model for finding connections, common ground

Wyness added that he thinks a province-wide Camp fYrefly would be a model worth pursuing in the future, as it has been in Ontario and Saskatchewan.

Mutch said this year’s camp supplied lots of fuel for reflection on how to proceed, but she feels encouraged that the learnings and participant feedback from 2018 will help Camp fYrefly continue to provide a valuable experience for LGBTQ2S+ youth.

“With fYrefly we’re working with a really high needs community, with youth who have a lot of social anxiety, so there might be some considerations around how big camp should be and different formats.” Mutch said. “But I think there was a lot of value in having youth from across the province finding connections and common ground.”