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Interview with Anastacia EasterlingPhoto by Beverley Weiler (2014). Lunch at Mountain Friends Camp, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Anastacia Easterling is Executive Director and one of the founders of Mountain Friends Camp, which was launched in 2009 as a program of Intermountain Yearly Meeting (IMYM). She serves on the board of Quaker Voluntary Service, recently completed a two-year internship at William Penn House in Washington, DC, and is about to spend four months in Israel. The following text was excerpted from an interview that Western Friend conducted with Anastacia on August 12, 2014.

For more information about Mountain Friends Camp, see: mountainfriendscamp.org.

Western Friend: Would you start by telling us some of your background as a Friend?

Anastacia Easterling: My parents started attending meeting in Logan, UT, when I was very young. So I grew up attending a monthly meeting and also the yearly meeting. That was important for me, the yearly meeting, having connections with friends in the children’s program who I would see almost every year. I wasn’t as involved with Quakers during college, but I worked at Friends Camp in South China, Maine, the summer of 2008. That was my first experience at a residential summer camp. It was during that summer that I started talking with IMYM Friends about how great it would be to start our own summer camp.

WF: So even though you hadn’t gone to Quaker Camps while you were growing up, you saw what a camp could offer to people in IMYM?

AE: I saw how much it meant to the campers. So many campers said to me, “This is my second home. This is where I feel safe. These are the people who really know me, who really accept me. These are the people who really love me, my camp community, my camp friends.”

I also heard kids in New England complain about how far they had to travel to be with other Quakers, a four-hour drive or something. And I realized that out West, our family had a twelve-hour drive to get to the yearly meeting. So yeah, I really saw how camp could be a place where you could have that critical mass of people together in a way that wasn’t just a weekend, in a way that would have a sense of community living together.

WF: Would you say more about the point you’re making about the residential aspect of it?

AE: In a residential setting, you just simply have so much time together. That’s key. We don’t usually take a lot of time in our lives to really engage with people. And there’s something about spending twenty-four hours a day with a small group of people that forces you into uncomfortable spaces and into conflict. You bump up against each other a lot. So then, knowing that – there you are, isolated, all living together – it mostly encourages people to try to work on conflicts, or try to work on their own behavior.

One of our cooks, Lucy, told me this summer that there’s always at least one person who’s going to irritate you in a situation like this. And unlike a lot of other situations in our lives – where if you find you have that initial dislike of someone, you can just veer away – the unique thing about being at a residential camp for a week or more is that you’ll have enough opportunity to see different sides of that irritating person, to see that of God in them, connect with them. It doesn’t mean the irritating part goes away, but you’ll see a bigger picture, a rounder version.

WF: Everything you’re saying resonates very strongly with me with the qualities of being a family.

AE: Yes, a lot of the relationships at camp do compare to family. We cook together and clean up after each other, and wake each other up, and do the work of taking care of one another. And when you have that kind of relationship with somebody, that’s when you can engage in conflict safely, because you know that the person cares about you or cares about the community. That gives you some trust that you can work through a problem and hopefully you and the other person can grow from it and become more accountable or more aware or whatever your lesson is.

WF: What would you see as the special contribution from having multiple generations working together like that?

AE: I think that any time we’re forming authentic relationships with people across generations, or across other barriers, it opens us up. I mean, just realizing that people are individuals can be huge. I remember a fourteen-year-old saying that camp was the first place she realized that adults have different personalities; they weren’t just some monolithic group of people like her parents. It’s an obvious thing, but it’s something that she had to learn through experience.

That same realization is important for older people to have, too. A couple times this summer, I heard a message from Quakers in worship that was basically, “Oh, it’s nice there are young people here.” Which clearly was true; it was nice for that person to see Friends who were twenty or fifty years younger in the room. But if that’s all you see, then you’re really missing an opportunity. Or if I’m a person of color in the room and you only celebrate that, well, I think we can do better as Friends to share more of our selves and listen and learn more from  other people.  To share your own spiritual journey and your own questions about life with someone who’s at a very different stage of life is powerful. It helps to see what is universal and to see the differences. It has real value.

WF: How do you think our meetings might do a better job of helping everybody know each other on an individual basis, when we’re not in residence together?

AE: I don’t know how to duplicate the intensive community-building experience we get at camp, or at Quaker Voluntary Service, but I think we can find other opportunities in monthly meetings. I think we can invite young people into the life of the meeting, into what’s really going on, the decisions that have to be made about the budget or the building. And teenagers can take responsibility for their own community. I remember at my meeting, it was a powerful transition when we stepped into responsibility for our own program. I remember our teen group was almost a refuge from some of the pressure of connecting to adults. We did want to have authentic relationships with adults and to be part of the same community, but I also feel very strongly that young people need their own spaces and autonomy. They need to be protected from adults who are intrusive or boss them around, or from parents trying to be part of their lives every moment. It’s a balancing act.

WF: It seems self-evident, but would you describe the importance of having a peer group?

AE: It’s important to have a group identity with people who are going through some of the same stage of life, a group of people who are asking some of the same questions, and who are engaging in the same experiences. I’ve seen kids say, “I don’t know what it means to be Quaker.” And then having a chance to hear what that means from different people, I’ve seen them go home and say, “Yeah, this is Quaker, this is what I do, this is what I believe, and these are are my Quaker peers with me.”

WF: It’s hard to have a corporate experience by yourself.

AE: Yes, community is key. We are always called to do our work together with open hearts, trust the process, trust there’s a Light, and trust that God will help us. When you trust the community you’re in, when you see the people there caring about each other and about you, then trust in God is a lot easier to access. ~~~

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