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fYrefly helps sexual-minority youth shine - ExpressNews - University of Alberta

17/07/08 5:37 PM


fYrefly helps sexual-minority youth shine by Ileiren Poon

July 17, 2008 - Edmonton-Sometimes, when there's no one for youth to turn to for support, they have to find a source of light within themselves. "Fireflies are the only insects in the world that create their own light from within," said Kris Wells, a researcher with the University of Alberta's Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, and a director with camp fYrefly, Canada's largest leadership retreat for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, two-spirited, queer, and allied (LGBTTQ&A) youth. "We tell our campers that we're giving them 'firefly fuel', so that in dark times they can be the source of their own inner light." This year Camp fYrefly celebrates its fifth anniversary with their largest camp to date. Sixty-four youth, aged 14 to 24, will be coming to Edmonton WHEN from all across the country to participate in a growing community of young leaders and mentors, including artists, psychologists, religious leaders, police officers, teachers, health professionals and many other adults from a wide variety of backgrounds. "We really took our cues from social movements throughout history: the American civil rights movement and the feminist movement, which both worked to educate and spread that education throughout their communities," said Wells. "Youth are not learning about queer history in their schools; they're not learning about their rights; they're not leaning about what a healthy relationship looks like." Camp fYrefly isn't about nature walks or arts and crafts activities, says Wells; it's about building young leaders who can go out and make a difference in their communities. Campers can participate in workshops with artist-in-residence Ivan E. Coyote, or national aboriginal youth role model James Makokis; they can also join discussions about critical media examination, health and safety, spirituality or queer history.

"At this year's camp we are pleased to offer over 25 workshops focused on building youth resiliency and leadership skills," he said. "We also have a research thread that runs through the camps, about what it takes to build resiliency in youth at risk; what helps build strong young minds and allows them to channel negative experiences into becoming stronger people."

Sexual-minority youth learn about community leadership at Camp fYrefly. Photo by Ted Kerr

Camp fYrefly is the only camp of its kind affiliated with an institution like the University of Alberta, said Wells. "We do get parents who look at our programs, understand that we're educators and professionals, and trust the university's reputation, and that allows them to trust us with their children," he said. "We get comments from all over the world from people who say they wish there was something like this near them." Next year, a few more young people in Canada will get their wish. "We're working with the Univerity of British Columbia to establish a camp in B.C. and we're also working with a group to start a camp in Ottawa next year, and in Saskatchewan in 2010," said Wells, adding that they don't plan on stopping there. "With more youth applying than we can accommodate, our goal is to have five Camp fYrefly locations operating across the country, where sexual minority youth can find the support to move from simply surviving to thriving in their schools, families, and communities." Camp fYrefly is operated by the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, the University of Alberta, and is supported by TELUS, ATB Financial, the Alberta Teachers' Association, Office for the Prevention of Family Violence and Bullying (Ministry of Children and Youth Services), Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, Alberta's Promise, the Society for Safe and Caring Schools and Communities and many other businesses and organizations across Canada. "We also receive support from hundreds of individual donors who help to keep the registration cost at a nominal $25 per camper," said Wells, adding that travel costs tend to be the biggest barrier for campers. "But we have such amazing donors, people who want the kids in their community to be able to avoid the kinds of painful things they themselves had to deal with."

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fYrefly helps sexual-minority youth shine - ExpressNews - University of Alberta

17/07/08 5:37 PM

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