Sunday, July 22, 2007

Obligatory Youth to Youth update

Six youth summits. Four Youth to Youth summits. You would have thought that I would have become a moderator at one as I eventually gained — and lost — such respect at the Pokémon Community and other sites. This time, you're right: All through this conference, people have asked me to enlist in the conference administration. Apparently I can go straight in and then do Adult Staff duty the following year, or so they tell me. That I'll have to check on in March, when they say applications are going out.

This year, so much has happened that I now have to break it into segments. Unfortunately, there are no pictures; I didn't remember the camera. If you're new to this blog and are a little confused, you may want to read the accounts of 2006 and 2005.

Day one: Fe fi fo fum, we're kicking I-95's bum

On Thursday, I had to be up at 4.00am and hail a taxi since my parents couldn't wake up. A few kids — the ones I normally went with had gone to Costa Rica earlier in the month — were in the van, and the father of one of them was driving as the pastor had to be present for a summer bazaar. The father turned out to be very critical of New Jersey as far as laws go, and he was like me in the mind that more roads were needed if the Garden State Parkway was clogged up at 7.00am (although much of it was due to an accident in which the police cut traffic off to push a car across the carriageway). We managed to get to campus at 11.00am, an hour ahead of registration, and when the rush finally came I made sure to be one of the first to register for courses — a writing course, a class about foreign students trying to learn the native language, and a workshop on Internet safety.

This year was the twenty-fifth anniversary of Youth to Youth's operations, so the theme this time around was 'I Love The 80s', meaning that the opening ceremony would often be interrupted (as scripted) by Melissa, who was reprising her role in the Youth Staff, with blurbs about what happened in the year — 1982 — that Youth to Youth came into being. Once that finished, we had a small session in the Rotunda of Bryant University in which we tried to identify whose picture was posted on one of the huge screens (I was in the flicking roster but it never stopped on me).

Then came the first family group session. Once again, I was in Family Group 9, and I had the same Adult Staff representative. The group was also led by Ashley (whom I recognised as the one who did slam poetry the previous year) and included a military man who had been sent to evaluate the programme by some sort of youth agency, a girl who aspired to be a model, a Nigerian girl who taught us our little buzzword 'Amonge' (an Ibo greeting) and whom I believe also wanted to be a model, a guy born in Japan to Sri Lankan parents who was advised against flirting, and four others. We didn't play as many games as before, rather discussing the events that passed as well as our lives, yet when we did, it would be Indian Chief, Mafia, and two attempts at Ha, the first being in a circle when some objected to being laid down on during the first session and the second — producing worse success at going down the line — being held on the final day.

Then dinner came. While I admit I've been eating less these days, I helped myself to decently-sized meals all through the conference. I also was approached by a few people in Adult Staff to recommend applying for Administrative Staff, or the 'A-Team'. It turned out that in order to be on Adult Staff, I would either have to return once as an adult plebeian or go to the administrative level. (I heard a variety of stories, some saying I could join Adult Staff right away.) When the day comes — sometime in March, they tell me — I'll find the application to do so; I'm also guessing that it'll require driving.

As lunch was going on, so did some old favourite round games such as Ride That Pony. There was another game, Jigaloo, which I finally figured out: You stand in a circle and shake and clap, singing 'Jig-a-looo, jig-jig-a-loooo, hey [name]!' before the person they call from the circle steps forward and creates a jive for the others to repeat before the process starts over. Now, I had thought for a while that it would be silly of me to join such games, but the following presentation, led by Bill Cordes, challenged that. He came on-stage with an easel on which an arrangement of letters, YOGOWYPI, was written. He told the conference that it stood for 'You Only Get Out What You Put In' before leading them in a gibberish chant, which I came to realise meant that anyone not joining the mass in following obviously wasn't putting in what they expected to enjoy in it (I'll have more on that later):

Fe, fe fi, fe fi fo, fe fi fo fum! Kumalacha kumalacha kumala vista, no no no nacho vista, vista, vista! Isalini disalini oo ah ah malini acha kacha acha lacha oo ah ah....

Then, there was 'The Big Show'. Instead of it being a talent show, it was a game show that involved the whole congregation: We started by filling out and submitting a quiz with eight questions, and the one who got the most right won an iPod and those whose sheets were drawn before got conference memorabilia (I got another pouch). Eventually one was called up to face the presenter in a 'Let's Make a Deal' session: He offered her a box or five one-dollar banknotes. The audience at first urged her to choose the box, yet as the number of banknotes increased, she leant toward the banknotes — and ultimately accepted them over the box, which turned out to have a dollar's worth of pennies.

At the end of the day, we all returned to one dormitory hall. Since construction was taking place and some of the dorms were out of commission, we all had to take up residence in one hall, the boys on the lower two floors and girls on the upper floors. I ended up with the very same room as last year, yet my room-mate was an East Greenwich envoy (the vast majority this year were East Greenwich envoys; none lived outside the north-eastern Untied States and Bermuda).

Day two: Lost in numbers

With the morning came the next speaker, David Mahan, who had not much more to say than his experiences as a young father and a screed on how abstinence was the only sure way to keep oneself clean of any infection or pregnancy (I'll have more on what I think when I write my piece on televangelists tomorrow — I just heard tonight that Tammy Faye has copped it) as a result of what he went through with having a baby and scraping to get by. Once that finished, we went off to the athletic centre for the team-building games, in which we had to rotate around stations that put us in a game of Hot Potato, cryptograms, and bridge walk in a theme similar to that of Survivor. The one I didn't like much was the cryptogram: We were handed a novel and were told to decipher a code using sequences that relied on a page number, line number, and letter. The codes, which were touted as escape codes, turned out to be Youth to Youth operation numbers, disheartening when the trouble people went through to understand the instructions was accounted for.

Then, we had lunch, a Family Group session, and our workshops. The first workshop I attended was 'A Day in the Life of an ESL Student', led by a staff member who himself had for a while struggled with language after moving in. He led the class off with sheets numbered by level of language mastery; those with the number 1 were written entirely in Spanish, and the amount of English increased as the number went up. The workshop ended wit lists of suggestions to accommodate those arriving from other countries with little or no English. The second, 'The Write Stuff', was initially a course in writing when other people tell you what to include, having us write any sort of work as she announced words for us to include in the order in which she announced them. Soon, though, it became a session in which we gathered in a circle and one or two people would come in and act out a scenario, and one in the circle would yell 'Freeze!' if he or she had an idea of a scenario that fit the positions the people inside were in, causing them to hold their positions and leave if the person who called tapped them out and assumed their position before continuing. Soon enough, we were all doubled over in laughter; one they found more hilarious was my intervention on a parent discipling an emotional child to turn it into me being a healer and the other girl confessing her 'sins'.

Then we had dinner, and the Youth Staff had a presentation that did away with projector idents that gave a glimpse of what the skit would cover and, rather, had staff members come out with flash cards with years written on them. The funniest of them all was a director's cut scene, in which a director had to do two takes on a scene in which a sister found her brother to be a drug addict and near death, whereupon she called her mother, who then hailed an ambulance. Two takes, one with pouting on the part on all cast members and another in which crying was induced, passed before the director announced that there were two many emotions to describe the disaster of such news.

Once that and another group session cleared, we went out to the athletic centre for racing games, food, and a movie. The pool was closed this year, so there went my chances to clean my toe up. The time would be spent with a girl I met during the writing workshop and her boyfriend, both from Connecticut and coming to conference for the first time.

Days three and four: Water and tears

Since the day began with a youth action planning session, I feel obligated to explain the group I came with and have been a part of for four years or so. We are a church group, responsible for many events occurring on the island for the enjoyment of kids and teenagers and for the benefit of the church. However, the group has been falling into disrepair; some of the senior members have ended up smoking, drinking, and causing other mayhem; indeed, as I stated in the 2005 report, one had been caught with marijuana at the conference. As Mike, the member of our youth group who was working as a Youth Staff member, explained in the morning, the previous leaders had been lenient on the other members, requiring that no drugs be done 'at the meetings'. Since laws prohibited it anyway, this had no effect. Mike decided, along with the rowdy bunch we came up with, that a drug-free style outside meetings would be compulsory. However, he warned of opposition from the girls who didn't come because of their involvement in the Costa Rica trip — indeed, according to him, many of them had been caught drinking vodka on the trip. The discussion dragged on into the following morning's discussion session, and we finally agreed on a bill to be voted on at the next meeting.

Back to day three. Once the planning session finished, we returned to the auditorium for another speaker, Harriet Turk. She led off with a story of a cashier who at first refused to talk to her until she gave her an ultimatum: stay put until a word was said. The next day, she came back, and the cashier announced to the whole store what was being rung up. As it turned out, this girl had a problem with the job and her social life that reflected in how she went about work. This led her to introduce a chant — one she would transmit to her daughter whenever she was out — that was supposed to make us assure ourselves that our social situation was within reach of rectification.

Lunch passed, and we had our third workshops. I attended a seminar on Internet safety, in which the officers led off with a few videos, one in which a kid fell off his bike down a concrete stairwell. The message, he said, was that anything could float around on the Internet. Indeed, he showed us a few things about social networking sites and friends on the Internet that shocked me. The first was a MySpace page of a person who legally possessed marijuana but ended up sharing it with teens he met through the page; the second was a story of a kid whose parents were technologically literate but was depressed much of the time, turning to the Internet for comfort before a 'friend' turned on him a week before he committed suicide.

Then, we headed back to the athletic centre for a round of water fights. I was not involved in any of the games in particular, yet I did often hang around people who ended up getting splashed in many places. One of the staff did eventually toss water at me, although it quickly cleared up. Yet I would have another source of water to worry about soon enough: tears. During the games, I chose to tail a pack of students from the snow cone machine. They all eventually were drenched as I followed them, but soon enough, one girl began to cry over a guy rejecting her based on an abortion belief (again, look for my televangelism piece tomorrow). Eventually one of her friends, a staff member, and I cheered her up, and all was bright and rosy again.

We cleaned off, had dinner, and we had the dance. Like last time, the dance was being held in the Rotunda rather than the park, but this was as planned (perhaps since there had been thunderstorms in the area as of recent). Yes, I did have a map or two, but this time, I would not — by my own choice! — be working on it whilst everyone else was having a good time. Time would be spent alongside two staff members, one of whom had, like me, obtained a great deal of college credits in her senior year. (This person I did eventually give a few old maps to.) I ended up dancing with them, and I enjoyed it. I'm not sure if it's due to a crush — if this were the case, it occurred really, really late this year — but when I was around these people or even on the floor, nothing seemed to matter other than how I looked to the people I was actually dancing with. (I might write a little more on that.)

On the final day, the family groups organised and we had a mass picnic outside the athletic centre. Then, we went into our room and made an attempt at Ha, which collapsed as people just couldn't stop giggling. The closing ceremonies followed, in which we were all given fortune cookies to crack at the same time, and I was actually able to get AIM contact lists for once!

So, youth staff?

Yes, administrative staff. Everyone has been telling me to apply, and it's time I gave back to the programme after feeding off it for four years. I can't wait until March.

Nobody tell James.

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