I remember being nervous in the days leading up to my first Summer Institute as a Youth. I had missed the previous SI, which would have been my last in the Children’s Program. It felt like a major leap going from a small class of pre-teens to being in a large group of teenagers, ranging in age from 12 or 13 all the way up to 18. My brother had already successfully bridged in and seemed to be having fun, but I remained anxious nonetheless.
I’ll never forget the moment that I walked into the Youth Dorm common area after unloading my belongings and seeing a group of Youths chatting and smiling. They were a year or two older than I was. I recognized them, but I did not know any of them. I was plotting a path back to the safety and security of my dorm room that did not involve walking past the group when one of them said, “Hey, are you Becky? You should come hang out with us.”
Little did I know that in that moment, I had just met my life long best friends. We had every meal together that week (mostly consisting of ice cream). We sat by each other during the youth theme speaker. We held hands during Youth Vespers every evening while singing and really starting to understand the Seven Principles for the first time. We spent the afternoon playing volleyball and cooling off in the pool. We stayed up a little too late every night munching on candy, teaching each other card games, and discussing what little we knew about politics and Social Justice at the time. After the week ended and we said our tearful goodbyes, the countdown to the next time we would see each other began immediately. 358 days to go.
That first year in the youth program will always go down in my book as the best SI I ever had. I walked into the week expecting to feel awkward and embarrassed the whole time, but I walked out of the week with an invaluable support system. Although we are all very different people, we are all bonded through our common Unitarian Universalist beliefs. In the years to come, having that group has kept me sane. It was and continues to be comforting knowing that I have an entire community to look to for advice and help when I need it.
Why do I keep coming back? My last year in the Youth Program was 2011, but I feel my supportive community grow every year. As a new Young Adult, my community expanded to include people that were 15 years my senior. Now as an “Old” Young Adult, my supportive community has grown to include people of all ages. I can’t wait to see who becomes part of my supportive community this year.
~ Becky Mitchell