As soon as we got started on Thursday, we were all emotional. As facilitators we all breathed deeply, with heavy hearts and tears in our eyes. This was the day when we all opened up to one another, and shared personal stories to illustrate both the pain of our past and the triumph of overcoming it.

The day before, a few of the students had asked if they could read their poetry to all of us on Thursday. One of the girls even asked me if I would write a poem for the kids, and she would read it aloud. Here is what I wrote for them:

Of course we were happy to have them share their poems – a sign of comfort and safety in their surroundings and a desire to creatively express themselves in front of their peers. Their poems were filled with every emotion you could imagine – they were sad yet hopeful, angry yet compassionate, abused yet empowered. The only way I can describe it: devastatingly beautiful. It was impossible to jump right into a lesson or discussion after that, so Christina took all of us through a beautiful guided meditation on compassion.

Once we all had cleared our minds and opened up hearts, the emotional morning actually ended up being a perfect introduction to our topic for the day: Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence includes five major topics: Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Self-Motivation, Empathy and Social Skills.

Christina segued from her meditation into Self-Awareness to explain the importance of being aware and using meditation as a tool to increase awareness. Uswege and I followed with Self-Regulation and Self-Motivation, and each of us told the kids our own personal stories of how we had to regulate our emotions in difficult situations. Situations where anger would have been the ‘normal’ and ‘expected’ reaction. The entire session on Emotional Intelligence seemed to resonate deeply with these kids, probably because every day of their lives they’re presented with situations that induce pain, sadness or anger - situations that would be impossible for any of us to handle. Now imagine never being given the tools or the guidance to face that pain, or deal with that anger. These kids all have a deep and profound sense of empathy and understanding inside of them, they just need somebody to recognize and nurture it. Hopefully this introduction to Emotional Intelligence gave them new skills they can use to take control over their anger and a new way of being to process their sadness when it strikes.

We finished Thursday by shifting from the internal change we were trying to create in the students, to inspiring them to create a vision for their community. As with all RENEW workshops, these young people got an opportunity to create their own youth-led community service project. The ideas they came up with blew us away, and the kids developed those ideas more fully on Friday – the last day of the RENEW camp.

Thank you to all of our donors who made this possible. Special thank you to our title sponsor National Processing Solutions and the Woodside Community Action Grant for helping us bring the RENEW program to youth in Arizona. We are forever grateful.