If I could dream up the most perfect week of how a summer camp could go, it would not even come close to the experience I had as a counselor this summer at One Earth Writing’s Sports Writing Camp. In partnership with Wayne State University’s C2 Pipeline Program, we brought together 30 teens from the surrounding metro Detroit area with the goal of helping teens connect across racial, religious, and socioeconomic lines through writing workshops. And I believe we did just that.

I never went to summer camp as a child, but in just four short days I learned the dramatic impact it can have on adolescence. Offering more than activities and writing prompts, Sports Writing Camp provided a space for teens to build new friendships, confidence, independence, and a sense of belonging. For a child who may have grown up in the same neighborhood or gone to the same school their whole life, camp may be the first opportunity to meet a large group of new friends and interact with a diverse group of people.

Some of our favorite moments:

Former Detroit Lions kicker Eddie Murray, came to speak to the campers about what life is like as a professional athlete. I think it is fair to say – this was their favorite moment of the entire camp! Each teen, whether they enjoyed the sport of football or not, was captivated by Eddie’s story from growing up in Canada to moving to England to becoming a professional athlete. They learned how trade in the NFL works, how to punt a football, and even had the opportunity to try on a Superbowl ring.

The weather was as close to perfect as it will ever be, and everyone’s spirits were high. This led up to a few intense volleyball games. Chloe, one our camp counselors, taught the group a new game dubbed “nuke-em,” which has rules similar to dodgeball. The group played every chance they got! After each match, we would sit down and write. The point was to think of all the emotions that go into sports. The anticipation of a match. The exhilaration of competing.

PAWS, Detroit’s favorite hometown mascot came and played a game of charades with us. Each team selected a verb and had 30 seconds to to guess correctly.

And of course, the writing. We had a number of different writing prompts for the group to select from when getting their creative juices flowing. In a fun, supportive workshop setting, teens connected through informal activities and subsequent writing prompts, which they shared with their peers. The goal of this program, and all One Earth Writing programs,  is to build confidence, leadership, and voice in teens while connecting them across racial, religious, and socioeconomic divides. By understanding across cultural lines helps dissolve differences and find common ground.

I drove home the last day wearing a smile that could “end wars and cure cancer.” Everyone who participated presented a piece of writing they completed throughout the program, or shared a favorite experience to their peers and family. Even though this group only spent four days together, the bonds and friendships forged were honest and sincere. I witnessed each teen befriend someone they normally wouldn’t cross paths with, and feel comfortable enough to express themselves honestly through their writing and interactions.