Alum Stories - Jason Neal
Profile: Jason Neal
Encampment: California, 1991
Grew up in: Long Island, NY
Now lives in: Long Island, NY
What community service projects do you remember?
Community service was a big component. We worked at a church that operated a soup kitchen. We went to a hospital that treated babies who were addicted to crack. We took turns in a rocking chair, just rocking the babies. We worked with migrant farm workers and their families.
How did camper self-government work for your Encampment?
Some kids felt that it was up to each person to govern themselves. Others said let’s have a president to tell you what to do. Others liked the idea of having a council. We learned about civil discourse – how to speak about volatile topics, how to listen and understand and find a solution that helps more than just yourself. You can disagree with someone and still listen with empathy. The Encampment encouraged me to seek the middle way.
How did the Encampers get along? How did this change over the time you were together?
At first, everyone “got along.” Then people started congregating with like-minded individuals. I learned a lot about diversity, not just “I’m black, you’re white, he’s Hispanic…” Some youth identified differently with respect to gender/sexuality; we had to make sure we had a safe space for everyone. People differed politically. It was hard for me to appreciate others’ perspectives but I had to recognize that my perspective could [also] be skewed. You need to treat people with dignity and respect. Sitting at the campfire one night, we were like a family, brothers and sisters in a grand sense. This was one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been. You don’t realize until years later the impact this has on you and the impact you have on others.
How has the Encampment influenced your life?
The Encampment was a game-changer for me! I felt, now that you have all these new insights, information, knowledge, now you have to do something with it.