According to the Trevor Project, 45% of LGBTQ youth considered attempting suicide last year.
But a local camp is bringing youth together to encourage self-exploration and is changing lives.
Dropping labels at the door and walking into a safe space, LGBTQ youth call the Diversity Camp home.
Every summer, 12-to 17-year-olds get a chance to make friends and express their authentic selves.
Diversity Camp Inc. Board of Directors Joshua Olinger came up with the idea eight years ago to give children a place to connect with people just like them.
“To find community because that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “A lot of the kids who come here they don’t have those things at home. If this is where they can get it and we can get more people here, the more the better.”
As the LGBTQ community faces discrimination, bullying and mental health challenges, a camp counselor said Diversity Camp helps them overcome depression.
“It’s really hard and upsetting for these kids to not be accepted in their hometowns,” they said. “So to have this escape and be able to connect with people outside of this is so important.”
Campers travel from as far as Virginia Beach or out of state for a chance to transform.
“But the parents transform to understand ‘wow, my child is happier. The spark of joy is back,’” said Dolly Davis, Diversity Camp Inc. Vice Co-Chair of the Board of Directors.
With pride flags on display, artwork from past campers line the camp.
Each poster board is filled with messages of inclusivity.
Emmett Donavan attended the camp back in 2015 and learned a valuable lesson that inspired him to now teach others as a camp counselor.
“Anywhere I want to be who I am is the way it ought to be,” Donavan said. “I want to give that back to the campers who are here now.”
As campers walk out with new self-confidence, organizers and counselors walk away with a new level of pride for shaping a more free and safe generation.
If you want to support the camp you can make a donation on their website.