It was noticeably cooler than Florida when I stepped off the airplane at Manchchester Airport in New Hampshire. It was approximately 12:30 a.m. and my group, consisting of three Florida girls heading to a summer leadership program hosted by the Sierra Student Coalition (called "Sprog"), had arrived at safely on July 19. There was nothing particularly interesting to note about the ride over except for the fact that I was very excited and nervous about the program ahead. Our former president of the Student Environmental Association at USF had returned from her leadership training on fire with passion. She told us it would change our lives and encouraged the three of us to go so we could carry on the duties properly as officers. Thus Karissa, the new president, Michelle, the chair of the recycling committee, and I, the new vice president, picked out a training we could all attend together, that was New Hampshire.
A trainer picked us up and had another "sprogger" that he had picked up earlier in the car. The van was loaded with luggage from all of us and it was a tight fit in the back seat, but I was in between two friends and I was very happy. The windows were rolled down and the cool New England air teased our hair as it drowned out the singing driver. As late as it was, I was not tired and I did not tire during two hour drive to the World Fellowship Center. I was completely at peace and calm. My peacefulness was magnified when I looked up in the sky and saw hundreds of stars I've never been able to see before.
The next morning I woke up around 7:30 at the World Fellowship Center. Considering that the bunch of us had not gotten to bed until 2:30, I was impressed that we were all awake and alert. All windows open, a cool breeze was serving as our wake up call by filling the cabin. I promptly shut the closest window as we all shivered and dressed for the day. Since the rest of the campers wouldn't be getting in until around noon, and activities wouldn't start until about 2:30 p.m., the morning was ours. Coming out of the cabin around 8, we found a carpool headed up to the main cabin and joined it so we could get our breakfast.
After breakfast, we hit the trails and found ourselves at a beautiful lake surrounded by blueberry bushes. After playing for a little while in the clear water and indulging in some fresh blueberries, we headed back up to the main lodge to meet our fellow sproggers.
A few name tags and awkward introductions later, it was time for the official ice breakers. Learning the names of 40+ people in less than a week was going to be difficult for me, but we laughed and had a great time as everybody participated in the interactive icebreakers.
The next day it was down to business. We woke up early so the group could walk to the main lodge for breakfast at 8, then get to the conference center for the trainings that started at 9. All week we worked on trainings and workshops discovering more about ourselves, each other, and the similar problems we faced. We discussed campaign planning, tactics and strategies, recruitment, leadership development, personal planning, working with the media, nonviolent communication and running meetings, among many, many other topics. The diversity in the group ensured there would always be another viewpoint and another way to look at things we may have taken for granted. Each sprogger contributed helpful tips and tricks that were ferociously scribbled down in notebooks across the room. Not a minute went by where we were not learning something new and exciting.
Quite possibly, the quietest times were the evening activities. Most centered on somber issues but were laced with enough hope and encouragement to carry on. It was the evening activities that reminded me that we all had personal issues, and that, like a book, a person cannot be judged by his or her exterior. For instance, one activity encouraged us to open up about why we were in the environmental fight. Listening to some stories, I found many of my peers had been personally subjected to environmental racism.
One particularly exciting evening was ended with a mini screening of "Burning our Future: Coal in America" by director David Novack. Mr. Novack also ended up helping my group with our simulation. The simulation was essentially the final exam of Sprog. We were all given a hypothetical situation in a made up town with made up characters played by our trainers. My group just happened to get the scenario that had to fight for clean coal -- an ironic twist after watching Mr. Novack's film. However, we decided that though Mr. Novack is against clean coal, he would be the best one from whom to get information on clean coal. Thus, our group got a private chat with Mr. Novack on "the other side of the story" which happened to enrich my experience more. In the end, our fake campaign for clean coal won out; proving to the group that winning is not about who is "right" or what is "wrong" -- but about how we plan our strategy.
Sprog was one of the best weeks of my life. The week flew by so fast, but I learned so much and made so many like-minded friends that it was worth it. Next year, I hope to be a trainer so I can make as much of a difference in people's lives as my trainers made in mine.