I found COLAGE last summer. I had started writing my memoir and wanted to get more involved in advocacy work. I looked online and found Family Equality Council and COLAGE. After a little research I decided to get involved with both.
A year later I attended my first Family Week. Months ago I anxiously awaited for the volunteer application to be posted online. I’d decided a couple months prior that I wanted to volunteer.
I was excited as I reached out to friends, family and co-workers to write letters of recommendation. I put in a request for time off, even though I had to wait to hear if I’d been accepted…I didn’t want anything to get in the way.
Fortunately, I was accepted and a few weeks ago I spent a full day flying from Idaho to Boston. That night I stayed with a fellow COLAGEr and I had my first taste of what the week would be like. I’d not met this person before but I felt instantly connected to her. She welcomed me into her home and made me feel so comfortable. A couple other COLAGErs came in from New York for the night. They were both people I’d chatted with online and via phone but it was my first time meeting them in person as well. We stayed up later than we should talking and getting to know each other. It was really nice having some ‘small group’ time before volunteer training.
The next day, we took the ferry to Provincetown (P-Town) and my week began. We had staff training, moved into our houses for the week and got ready for Field Day. I was one of only two volunteers who had never attended Family Week before, not even as a youth. Often it can be hard to join a new group when many of them have known each other for decades. And yet, everyone made an effort to get to know to me and to make sure I was comfortable. Everyone was aware that I was new, but instead of this being something that made me stand out, most seemed to take it as a sign that they should invite me in.
I was assigned to work with high school youth, which was my preferred age group. The first day I felt a little awkward: many in the group had history together and I was still trying to learn everyone’s names. The first day went well but I wanted to form stronger relationship with the youth. Gaining trust can be hard, so I figured a good first step would be to show my commitment to them. We had 50 youth in our group and on the second day I learned all of their names. Sure, they laughed when I said their name three times in a row or walked around the circle repeatedly, calling each one out individually. But that night at the beach event, I was able to welcome each one personally. And while they might have thought I was a little quirky, each one smiled when I did so.
All of our workshops went really well. I was impressed with the other volunteers in my group. I felt like we had a strong team that worked really well together. Everyone reacted well under pressure, even when there were potentially stressful situations and provided comfort for the youth when personal issues arose.
My favorite part of the week though was just the overall vibe. It was truly the most inclusive environment I’ve ever been in. When working in groups, youth were encouraged to participate but never forced to contribute. Youth voluntarily helped others with physical disabilities so that everyone could actively participate in all activities. The safe sex and consent workshop was inclusive of people on the asexual spectrum, which can often be overlooked. And for the first time in my work with youth, as a fairly large woman, not one person commented on or made fun of my weight. My takeaway from all of this is that COLAGE actively fosters an environment of inclusivity that helps shape youth into the best people they can be.
When I flew to Boston, I was unsure whether I would do Family Week again next year. The past couple of months had been stressful with my book release. Putting so much time into staff training and writing workshops was challenging.
But as the week drew to a close, I was already looking forward to next year. Group conversations sparked ideas for other activities and I was already talking to my co-facilitators about possible exercises for next year.
This was an incredible event for me. Not only was I able to give back to younger queerspawn, but I was also able to learn and grow as an individual. As someone who found COLAGE as an adult, I never had these experiences when I was young. But it also reminded me that we’re never too old to find our community. I’m grateful I found COLAGE a year ago and I look forward to having it be part of my life for many years to come. And yes, I will be back next year. In fact, I already requested the time off work!