Growing up in the Midwest, Jessica Weissbuch ’10 worked as a team leader for a youth organization that utilized mentors. Though she moved to LA determined to pursue a career in TV production, she was still drawn to activism. Weissbuch began working with queer youth at a local LGBT center where she met volunteer and future wife, Kayla Ryan, who also attended Antioch.
Ryan attended summer camps as a child and fantasized about being a camp director. As an adult, she became acutely aware of the value of summer camp and how inaccessible it is to many. “Camp is a privileged, white, expensive experience,” says Ryan. She aimed to provide something LGBTQ youth were not getting in a school environment.
“We started researching how to start a camp and began raising money,” says Weissbuch. “For the first few years, we ran Brave Trails on nights and weekends while we worked other jobs. Now, we are able to do it full time.”
Brave Trails is a leadership camp for LGBTQ youth offering a mix of traditional camp activities like swimming, archery, theater, and outdoor activities along with daily workshops on everything from body positivity and yoga to resume building and college prep. Camp Brave Trails is the first camp of its kind in California and one of only nine in the United States.
Business leaders, graduate students, and members of the Peace Corps make up its team of mentors and volunteers. It is a place where youth can feel proud and empowered. Applicants must have an interest in developing leadership skills.
“If they want a vacation, there are other camps for that,” says Ryan. “We have had campers go home and create blogs, fight to establish LGBTQ clubs at school, and meet with politicians,” adds Weissbuch.
Brave Trails receives referrals from parents, educators, and mental health counselors. This year, the camp will offer $40k in scholarships. “For some of our teens, camp is the only place they feel seen and accepted,” says Ryan. “Our mission is to never turn away those who cannot pay.”
“LGBTQ youth deal with stress and depression at disproportionate levels. As a licensed mental health professional, I feel ethically responsible for our campers,” says Weissbuch, who obtained her master’s in clinical psychology with an LGBT concentration from Antioch University. “We have trained staff on hand to assist campers when issues arise, so they can enjoy their time at camp.”
In 2015 there were 46 campers; by 2017 that number had grown to 115. The couple plans to expand to Maryland in the summer of 2018. Camp Brave Trails is located just outside of Los Angeles, in the pines of the Angeles National Forest. The new camp is located in the Catoctin Mountains of Western Maryland.
Jessica and Kayla were featured on AfterEllen.com’s list of Power Lesbians for starting Camp Brave Trails.
“It is an honor and we are excited to be at the forefront,” says Ryan.