Cultivating Selfless Service in Young Hearts and Minds

In the radiant tapestry of Hillcrest Orchard Camp’s Fall Program, an extraordinary initiative unfolds, intertwining the principles of the Baha’i Faith with the transformative power of experiential learning. 

This innovative program – just one example among thousands of ongoing Baha’i efforts for youth around the world – aligns with the goals of the Baha’i Faith’s current Nine-Year Plan, emphasizing unity, service, and community-building. 

RELATED: Community Building: A Practical Way to a United World

What is the Nine Year Plan?

Embracing the incredible diversity of the human family, with its varied races, religions, peoples, nations, cultures, and languages, the Baha’i Faith has organized its global activities through plans provided by its worldwide supreme body, the democratically-elected Universal House of Justice. The global Baha’i community has recently embarked on a new series of plans, spanning 25 years. 

The focus of these plans, concisely summarized in one letter on the occasion of the centenary commemoration of the passing of Abdu’l-Baha in 2021, reminds us to emulate how he:

… presented the divine precepts to every kind of person, constantly widening the circle of unity, without regard for any outward dissimilarities of appearance, language, custom, or belief.

Baha’is achieve the widening our “circle of unity” through grassroots, service-oriented community-building efforts like free programs of spiritual education for children and youth. As the Universal House of Justice has written, “The Revelation of Baha’u’llah is concerned with the transformation of both humanity’s inner life and social environment.” That spirit comes directly from the writings of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, who asked each person to “Concern yourselves with the things that benefit mankind …andBe anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”

This spirit of selfless service to humanity animated Hillcrest Orchard Camp’s Fall Program – an extension of the transformative summer camp model, now becoming a growing movement fueled by word-of-mouth enthusiasm and collaborative efforts with local entities. From September 30 to October 1, 2023, 23 eager young minds, aged 10-15, accompanied by 12 dedicated activity directors and guides, immersed themselves in an enriching experience rooted in the principles of the Baha’i Faith

Harvesting What Was Sown: A Lesson in Patience and Community

The potential of the program’s approach to experiential learning in leadership development was already on full display during the first summer camp in 2022. The 2023 Summer Program further developed this potential, which is now yielding a bountiful harvest. The Fall Program commenced with a heartwarming act of reaping what had been sown during the summer. 

Returning campers, now seasoned hands at companion gardening, were joined by new friends attending for the first time, as they joyfully harvested the fruits of their labor. This tangible connection to the natural cycle reinforced the profound lesson of patience, persistence, and the satisfaction that comes from nurturing something to fruition. The act of gathering the literal fruits and vegetables of their labor (apples for making apple sauce, and potatoes for french fries) served as a metaphor for the broader themes of personal growth and the interconnectedness of effort and reward. Likewise, the experience of harvesting and sipping herbal teas grounded the youth calmly around the campfire.

Planting Seeds of Hope: Flowers for Spring and Beyond

With a sense of continuity, the campers then turned their attention to planting flowers for the upcoming spring. This act of planting annual flowers and perennial bulbs in “plant families” beneath the orchard of apple and cherry trees was not just about beautifying the campsite but symbolized the ongoing commitment to growth, renewal, and the anticipation of the future. Each flower planted became a metaphor for the positive intentions and actions that these young minds were sowing not only in the soil but in their hearts and communities. Such experiences in nature were nourished with rich discussions on the virtue of encouragement, as the youth learned to use words of affirmation to kindly encourage one another during a scavenger hunt for small pumpkins and other autumnal items.

Leadership Lessons from Equine Companions: A Day at That Zen Farm

A transformative visit to That Zen Farm, where the campers engaged in a unique leadership program, became a highlight of the Fall Program.  This program wasn’t conducted in a traditional classroom but in the presence of wise and gentle equine companions. Through hands-on experiences, the young students learned to lead horses through an obstacle course, understanding the power of presence and the language of the body. By embracing community efforts beyond the camp’s boundaries, camp leadership demonstrated a powerful lesson in community building, reinforcing the importance of an outward-looking focus, and the power of inviting others to contribute their unique and diverse offerings to a growing community-based program.

The leadership journey continued with a challenge course featuring nine stations, each inspired by the remarkable abilities of different species. Campers faced puzzles, obstacles, and challenges mirroring the collaborative ways these species adapt to their environments and form thriving communities. This holistic experience wasn’t just physical but mental and emotional, reinforcing the idea that true leadership involves understanding and leveraging the unique strengths of each team member.

Growing Through Shared Experiences: A Community Initiative

What began as a grassroots effort has blossomed into a community initiative. Word-of-mouth advertising has become the program’s driving force, as participants enthusiastically share their transformative experiences with their parents and peers. Local entities, inspired by the camp’s mission, have joined forces to contribute to its expansion and improvement. Collaborations with organizations like That Zen Farm showcases the power of community synergy in nurturing growth and shared values. This short Fall Camp Video powerfully illustrates this progression.

RELATED: Fast-Track Your Community Building—by Speaking Kindly

A Vision Beyond: Expanding to New Regions

Buoyed by insights gained and collaborations forged, Hillcrest Orchard Camp is poised to share its success beyond local boundaries. The lessons learned have paved the way for offering this transformative program to other regions eager to replicate its impact. The seeds of transformation planted in the hills of Hillcrest have already been carried on the winds of enthusiasm to new regions, fostering a vision of interconnected communities grounded in unity, service, and leadership. We’ll share more as this journey unfolds.

The Fall Program at Hillcrest Orchard Camp epitomizes the beauty of shared growth and the transformative power of experiential learning. From the hands that harvest to the seeds that are planted, and from the challenges faced to the collaborative spirit embraced, the program has evolved into a beacon of positive change. As participants carry the stories of their experiences to their communities, and as local allies join hands to further its reach, Hillcrest Orchard Camp is not merely a camp; it is a growing movement, sowing the seeds of a more unified and compassionate world.

We’d love to hear your comments and input into this expanding program. Please reach out to [email protected] to connect, share, and learn how the Royal Falcon Foundation can assist you in establishing a youth-focused program in your area.

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