How Teen Camp Helped Me Cope
Matt Bianco-Splann, a grad student at the University of Southern California, shares his inspiring story of self-transformation as a participant in Omega Teen Camp—and later, as a camp counselor.
When I showed up for Omega Teen Camp at the age of 15, I was overweight and introverted and I didn’t have any friends. I guess you could say I came from a broken home. My parents divorced when I was 12, and after that, my motivation evaporated. I started doing poorly in school. I had serious issues with my father. And I didn’t do the normal things kids do, like go to the park and play ball. Instead, I’d stand on the sidelines or draw or play video games.
I showed up at Omega Teen Camp on the first day and I was really scared. I didn’t have my phone. I didn’t have Internet. I didn’t have Xbox or anything. I wasn’t about to go up to people and start a conversation—that wasn’t my thing. That first day at camp put me in a situation where I was like, “All I know how to do here is throw a Frisbee.”
I saw two kids playing Frisbee in a field, and I was like, “Hey, I wanna do that!” So I ran down and started throwing it around with them. One of the guys’ names was Nick, and he’s one of my best friends to this day.
I realized I was really good at playing Frisbee. I’d never been the king of something before, and it felt so great.
I started getting in shape because I was running around all day, playing Frisbee, and hiking back and forth from my cabin, which was way off in the woods, to the main camp area. And the food was super-healthy.
At Omega Teen Camp, I finally found a place where I could have fun and fit in. I found kinship—something I had never experienced at school.
My Favorite Moment at Camp
One of the things that impacted me the most was a clearing circle that the boys’ group had the first weekend. That’s when all the men sit in a circle, and one guy has a stick. He goes around and literally makes eye contact with every person in the group.
And if he’s got a problem with somebody, he says, “Hey, man,” and points them out. The two of them go in the center of the clearing circle, and everyone’s there to hear what’s going on. I don’t remember the exact words, but you talk about whatever happened that upset or frustrated you, then you explain how it made you feel, and then you talk about what you’d like to come out of it in the future.
A lot of times, the conflicts the guys talked about revolved around girls. The guy would say something like, “I was really into this girl, and then you came over and started talking to her while I was hanging out with her. It made me feel really jealous and angry, and it changed my view of you. But in the future, I’d really like to get to know you, because you do seem like a cool guy.”
I mean, we verbalized our feelings in front of an entire group of men, and it was cool. I realized that was something I’d been hungry for, but hadn’t consciously realized before. After that, a lot of the guys started to talk about their feelings. Everyone was so peaceful, and when conflicts came up, the kids resolved it themselves.
When I got home from camp, my parents didn’t even recognize me. I had lost so much weight and I felt so good about myself. I even tried out for my high school volleyball team, and to my surprise, I made varsity. I played some basketball, I played on a Frisbee team, and then later, during my first year in college, I became a New York State Champion rower. And I attribute that, with 100 percent confidence, to the encouragement I received and the confidence I developed at Omega Teen Camp.
Losing My Way in College
After my freshman year, I transferred to Arizona State University, and I had a really tough time adjusting. I ended up playing on the Frisbee team, but the guys weren’t friendly like the ones at camp. They all drank like fiends, and I started drinking a lot, too.
I was lonely and needed to make friends, so I joined a fraternity. I was looking for a brotherhood, but it was the opposite of what I thought it was going to be. It just led to more drinking and there was a lot of womanizing going on, too. It was like the opposite of camp, where the focus was on loving each other, being open and honest with each other, and being true to yourself.
For two years, I was just drinking and being a dummy. Then one semester, I got a 1.6 GPA. I went home and my parents were like, “Who are you? What are you doing?” They decided to stop supporting me financially. I wasn’t ready to admit that I needed help, so I went back one more semester and tried to support myself. I didn’t talk to my parents at all, because deep down, I was embarrassed by what I was doing.
I was going to school full time, I was working full time, I was paying dues for this fraternity, and I was drinking. At the end of the semester, I realized I couldn’t pay for another semester of school. So I went to my mom and my stepdad and said, “I need help.”
I realized I needed to go back to camp because it was a really good way to center myself, and that was really hard to do in the real world. My parents agreed with stipulations: I had to sign an agreement saying that I would stop drinking, get a 4.0 in the fall semester, and apply to graduate school.
I thought, “Holy shit. This is crazy!” But I agreed.
I went to camp for a month, and I found a kid who reminded me so much of myself when I was younger. In fact, I found a bunch of kids that I could relate to, and I tried to help them work through some of their issues.
That was probably the most rejuvenating month I’ve ever had. I was able to sleep really well. The food was awesome. I was able to reflect on everything that I had been doing. And I was teaching kids to play Frisbee, trying to create that love for the game that I had when I was a kid.
The Secret to My Success
I came back to Arizona ready to stay true to my agreement with my parents. I got a 4.25 GPA that semester. I applied to all these huge grad schools for architecture, and when I started getting the acceptance letters back, I was like, “What? I didn’t think I would ever get in to these schools!”
Now I’m going to obtain my graduate degree in architecture in Los Angeles, the city of my dreams, at the University of Southern California. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t gone back to camp as a counselor last summer.
I’m in such a good place now. The connections I made at Omega Teen Camp, and the social skills I learned there, paved the way for me to get where I am today.
© Omega Institute for Holistic Studies