Camp With a Cause

Teen gives afghan refugees summer camp experience

By Jessica Laskey
March 2019

Lucy Beckett has always been “a summer camp kid,” as she puts it. So it’s no surprise that when it came time for the longtime Girl Scout to apply for the prestigious Gold Award, Beckett was inspired by her love of summer camp.

The gold award is the highest honor a Girl Scout can receive for planning and implementing a “take action” project that provides a sustainable, lasting benefit to the girl’s larger community.

After spending summer 2017 volunteering with Mitzvah Corps—a program that provides social justice experiences for teens—at a summer camp for refugee children in Seattle, Beckett decided to implement something similar in her hometown.

The Cosumnes Oaks High School senior met with the clergy at her synagogue, Congregation B’nai Israel, about offering a two-week day camp for refugee children in the Sacramento area. Beckett had previously volunteered for B’nai Israel’s summer camp so she knew the organization had the infrastructure to support her idea.

Next came the question of who the camp would serve. Since Beckett knew she wanted to work with refugee children, she partnered with local refugee-resettlement agency Opening Doors to secure plenty of willing campers—children of Afghan refugees.

Over the last decade, the Sacramento area has become a key destination for Afghan refugees, especially those who hold Special Immigrant Visas issued to people who’ve worked for a U.S. military, embassy or government agency—many as translators, security personnel, drivers and cultural brokers—during the war in Afghanistan. Opening Doors is one of only five agencies in the region that serves these refugees. The agency resettled more than 1,000 individuals in 2017.

The inaugural Camp Nefesh—a Hebrew word often translated as “soul” or “lifeforce”—hosted 60 campers ages 4 to 13 for two weeks of day camps from late July through early August last summer at B’nai Israel on Riverside Boulevard.

Beckett planned all of the secular activities, including music, arts and crafts, cooking, sports, games and a Holiday Day when campers learned about American holidays. She staffed the camp with fellow teen volunteers who answered her calls to action on social media.

“There was a lot of me going to my friends and saying, ‘Tell your friends to tell their friends to volunteer,’” Beckett says with a laugh.

The Elk Grove teenager got word in November that she’d successfully earned the coveted Gold Award for Camp Nefesh, but that doesn’t mean she’s done. This year’s camp is already in the planning stages and Beckett is determined to see it continue after she’s left for college.

“My goal is to help the younger people learn how to step into my shoes so Camp Nefesh can keep going,” Beckett says. “I’m very passionate about social justice, especially immigrant and refugee rights, so I’ll continue to advocate for the community no matter where I am.”

For more information, visit campnefesh.com.

Jessica Laskey can be reached at jessrlaskey@gmail.com.

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