Common Threads

From January 14-16, We Are the Youth participant Shonz, volunteered at the 13th Annual Common Threads Youth Empowerment Retreat in Stony Point, NY. Here’s Shonz’s perspective:

This past weekend I got the amazing opportunity to volunteer at the Common Threads Youth Empowerment Retreat. The retreat is a 3 day program for high school students interested in ending violence and oppression rooted in sexism and heterosexism. This year, Common Threads had over 100 participants!

Over the course of the weekend, workshops were held on adolescent issues in a safe and fun-filled atmosphere. Common Threads tries to empower and inform the youth by teaching them how to create positive change in areas like personal safety, political advocacy, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. If you have ever participated in PrideWorks, Common Threads is like the extended version.

This was the first time that I was able to take part in the weekend. Even though I was a volunteer and not a participant, the experience was motivational and educational. The weekend kicked off with an opening ceremony on Friday night, during which a representative from each group lit a candle. The candles were placed in a circle with one large candle in the middle to symbolize unity.

The next day kicked off with breakfast and workshops. Workshops consisted of Dance, Safer Sex – LGBTQ Style, Healthy Relationships, Health Tips for Trans Youth, Their Friends and Allies and many more. I got to sit in on many workshops and found them all to be fun, informative and interactive. That night, the participants got to “let loose” with a themed dance. This year’s theme Dia De Los Muertos.

The end of the weekend was the most moving of all. For the closing ceremony, the participants and their advisers were asked to get into a circle while the volunteers stood in the middle. As I gazed around the circle I felt excitement radiate though the room; some faces already teary-eyed knowing what was to come next. The famous Common Threads ball of yarn was presented to the enormous circle. I watched eyes light up with anticipation. They were told to wrap a piece of yarn around their wrist and state, in three words or less, what they got out of the weekend. After doing so they would roll the yarn to someone across the room. Words like “hope, love, freedom, friendship, change and family” were in abundance. In the end, we were left with a web of yarn, held strong by all of us working together. The yarn was then cut, leaving everyone with a symbol of our bond.

Common Threads is a weekend where you get to be your complete self and no one judges you for it — instead, they applaud you for your differences. I encourage you to get your school involved and attend the 2012 Common Threads Retreat. I look forward to volunteering again next year!

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