At Camp Eclipse, being 'out in the woods' has a whole new meaning

After transitioning to a day camp in 2020 due to COVID-19, this year's Camp Eclipse will once again be an overnight retreat. Organizer Nikki Baldwin says the camp gives LGBT youth the opportunity to be themselves.

Retreat helps LGBT youth develop confidence and form friendships, organizer says

At Camp Eclipse, youths participate in recreational activities, make connections and gain leadership skills. (Submitted by Camp Eclipse)

For Jamie Headrick, Camp Eclipse was the safe space they desperately needed as a young member of the LGBT community.

Headrick, who uses the pronoun "they," said after they came out in junior high, it was challenging to find a place where they could be themself. When they heard about Camp Eclipse, they couldn't wait to attend.

"Going to camp and being around people who were like me, people who already sort of get it, was just such a nice relaxing thought," Headrick said Monday on The St. John's Morning Show.

Camp Eclipse: Out in the Woods is a four-day retreat, organized by YWCA St. John's and Planned Parenthood Newfoundland and Labrador, for LGBT youth aged 16 to 24. The camp includes recreational activities and workshops focused on topics like gender and sexual diversity, creating safer schools and the coming out process.

The camp not only provides youth with the opportunity to be themselves, it also equips them with leadership skills so they can advocate for themselves and other LGBT youth, said Nikki Baldwin, executive director of Planned Parenthood.

After shifting to a day camp in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's edition of Camp Eclipse will once again be an overnight retreat at Burry Heights on Salmonier Line. 

Nikki Baldwin, right, says Camp Eclipse provides youths with the leadership skills they need to become advocates in their own communities. (Submitted by Camp Eclipse)

Baldwin said the camp has submitted a plan to the provincial government and will have enhanced cleaning protocols, mask-wearing and physical-distancing measures in place.

Organizers are also looking for people aged 25 or older with a diverse range of backgrounds and skills to help with programming and to mentor campers.

"You just have to be able to give," Baldwin said. "If you think you have something to offer them, we're willing to hear about it." 

'There is a space for you'

Headrick began attending Camp Eclipse when they were 16, and said their time at the retreat was "absolutely beautiful." 

They said that being around other LGBT youth and mentors gave them the confidence to be a role model in their community.

"You manage to develop the confidence and the leadership skills to the point where, when you leave, I feel that you really have kind of a safe space within yourself," said Headrick.

The comfortable environment at Camp Eclipse may be difficult to imagine for LGBT youth used to hiding parts of their identity, but Headrick encourages them to sign up.

"No matter who you are, Camp Eclipse is for you and there is a space for you," Headrick said. "You really find a place to be yourself."

The application deadline for Camp Eclipse is July 18 for mentors and July 25 for campers and youth leaders. The retreat runs Aug. 26-29.

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