Yunasa.  Yunasa East and Yunasa West, places where gifted children find their tribe, find their family and find friends that understand them. Yunasa West is in Colorado and takes place one week every year. The setting; a beautiful forest where campers are connected to nature as well as to each other. I have written before about Yunasa, speaking of its amazing features and properties and how it brings the tribe together, whether it be singing at the campfire, playing games, or doing all the wonderful activities provided there. A very important activity at Yunasa is a support group called Heart of the Matter, which is overseen by the fellows and counselors while campers are able to express themselves in a confidential environment as friends lend support and understanding. In the end, no one is left out. Yunasa changes lives, giving campers the chance to explore themselves in meditation, in nature, and with friends. Yunasa is the place that gives you all the tools to find your voice. You can find your voice if you go looking for it.

To attend Yunasa West, campers must be between the ages of ten and fifteen, giving us a tight-knit community. The one downside, however, is that a camper’s access to their tribe is cut off once they reach fifteen, not giving them an opportunity to be an Emerging Leader or a Counsellor in Training. Yunasa East, hosted in Michigan, has leadership programs in place for campers 15  and older.  “The older campers – deemed either EL for ‘Emerging Leader’ or CIT for ‘Counselor in Training’ – whose bonds with one another are indurate after years of Yunasa, dispersed to welcome the younger campers, show them to their rooms, and initiate ice-breaking exercises.”[1] It is obvious that these older, former campers are given more responsibilities and yet still get to enjoy the camp experience with their tribe. These teens would have the opportunity to give back to those who helped them for years. Yunasa West is amazing, but I believe that the community of Yunasa West would benefit from the helping hands and open hearts of those in the EL/CIT programs. The same programs that have been successful at Yunasa East for years could be implemented at Yunasa West.

I believe that the EL/CIT programs would have an emotional impact on the individual campers at Yunasa West. Younger campers look up to the older ones at Yunasa, as they have more experience and more memories to share. The finality of the veteran campers aging out of camp leaves a deep impression on younger kids – they realize quite early that they have to leave too at some point.  This past year, I left Yunasa West crying, not only because I was leaving my tribe for another year, but because some of my best friends were leaving, not to return. 

I can’t say I have firsthand experience in this, but I can take a good guess on what it feels like to leave Yunasa for the last time as a camper. The veterans that leave have found a home at Yunasa; somewhere they can be themselves, so leaving must feel a lot like being asked to leave home. The effect of not having such a place during high school can cause stress for older students who no longer have Yunasa to look forward to, and most likely do not have a support system of peers in place at home. Having friends and a family who understand you is essential, and just knowing that it’s out there waiting for you to return each year is a great help. So, it makes sense that older campers should be able to experience this, at least through high school. The hope of having Yunasa to look forward to is a motivation to do the best you can, knowing that you have a second family that understands and supports you. 

The community would benefit from implementing the EL/CIT system at Yunasa West, allowing the campers 15 and older back. Events like Yunasa help build a sense of belonging and structure for the gifted community, when those in the community rely on belonging rather than attempting to fit in. As I have mentioned multiple times before, Yunasa provides a family, a tribe that understands the campers and their needs. The campers themselves create most of this community, contributing with their memories, skills, and experience to make Yunasa the best it can be. These veterans are mentors and amazing friends.

Yunasa, no matter what, will be different every year, as it’s the new campers that create a new Yunasa every year. Everything has to change, right? Change is good and necessary, however, it’s the memories and thoughts of the old campers that build the foundation on which the new version of Yunasa is created. Yes, Yunasa is amazing, and everyone contributes to building the community that campers call home.

“To prevent there being a huge influx of new 16 and 17 year old campers, campers aged 16+ must have attended yunasa at leas[t] one to two years prior before being re-admitted.”

The above quote is from a petition that Noah, a fifth-year camper created to promote an age limit raise at Yunasa West.  In my opinion, this is sound reasoning, due to the fact that these returning campers would be experienced and knowledgeable.

“Older campers can also help out during the camp in ways such as setting up decorations, helping to clean up, and helping to organize people and items.”

Drawing again from the petition,  this, too, is true. The older campers would be considered counsellors-in-training or emerging leaders, and yet would still have the camp experience.

Another benefit of implementing the EL/CIT programs at Yunasa West is one of financial gain in the favor of IEA (Institute of Educational Advancement).  If older campers could re-attend Yunasa until 17, they would be still sending in an application and paying for camp in those extra two years, funding Yunasa and all the other amazing programs for the gifted that IEA has created. You see, there’s a $50 application fee to get into Yunasa by itself, and the tuition is $1,600. With multiple returning campers who would be selected for EL/CIT, the income from applications alone would be significantly larger, without those in leadership counting in the Fellow/camper ratio.  With more financial security, IEA could then offer more to its attendees, offer more scholorships to those individuals who can’t afford the camp, or create and fund more programs for the gifted community. Any and all of these would in turn, provide secuirty to the Yunasa tribes, so the camps can continue.

Over the years it appears that the leadership programs at Yunasa East have proven successful, and I believe they will be equally successful if implemented at Yunasa West.   Of course, these older campers would have to be approved for this program; being good role models during their camper years, having a desire to give back, be open to leadership training, and learning what it means to be a mentor versus a friend, would be just a few of the areas that would need to be addressed. With the existing leadership program policies and procedures in place for East, the transition to implement it in the West should be smooth.

The emotions of the individuals who leave and those who watch them would be affected by this change. Are we just asking you to put off the inevitable for another couple years? Yes, we are. But I honestly believe that by putting it off for a couple more years, the timing of having to leave your tribe would correspond to leaving high school and beginning the next adventure.  The entire Yunasa West community would benefit from this, just as the Yunasa East community benefits from it now. The economics behind Yunasa would be boosted, and that would in turn benefit so many more individuals, even those who may never be a part of the Yunasa tribe.




I mentioned before a petition to pass this change in age limit. It was created by a good friend of mine, Noah, a fifth-year camper at Yunasa who left this past year. With your help, we can get this petition passed. Please, help us in bringing these leadership programs to Yunasa West by signing here.

Also, check out the website of IEA, the people that helped create Yunasa!


Photo Credit: Uncharted Journey Blog