Bay area camp teaches teens tolerance

ANYTOWN breaking social barriers

Imagine a world with little discrimination.  A community free of judgment based on race, gender, or religion.

There's a summer camp working toward just that and they're doing it with bay area teens.  It's called ANYTOWN camp and its happening at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg.

It's a place where teens learn and understand that they can't change where they come from, but they can definitely change where they are headed.  With the help of camp counselors, teens use the program to break down racial barriers, eliminate stereotypes and start a healthy dialog about discrimination.

It's a feeling Brenda Vargas, 16, knows all too well.

"I wish people would understand that its a struggle for Latino people because they are judged really harshly," says Vargas.

Brenda says her life has always been hard.  She grew up in a single-parent household and knew part of her responsibility was to help take care of her brother.  Working hard to prove to her peers that her family, despite stereotypes, are very hard workers.

"That if its immigrants, they're border hoppers and stuff like that and they automatically label you.  I try my best, I do my best, but I need to learn how to get confidence and speak up," says Vargas.

Despite race, religion or other details that divid them, the campers are learning they can co-exist.

The ANYTOWN camp has been helping Bay Area teens for the past 21 years; graduating some 5,000 teens from the program.  A camp run entirely by volunteers, many of who are graduates of ANYTOWN themselves.  The few we spoke with say they can only hope they can pass on just a fraction of what they learned to make the world a better place.

This summer, a little more than 100 participants will graduate the week long program.  Students like Brenda, who will walk away looking at the world a completely different way.

"I think about a quote I hear all the time. Be the change you want to see in the world and I have to be that one," says Vargas.

There is a community event Tuesday night at 7:00 at Eckerd College at Fox Hall.  It's the chance for the public to see what ANYTOWN is all about.  For more information on ANYTOWN and how you may help, visit their website at http://www.communitytampabay.org/blog/tag/anytown/

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