An emerging non-profit teaches kids how to build community.
Ray Ricafort was bummed. He had been volunteering at Beach High, a remedial high school in Long Beach, CA, and was sure he’d been getting through to the kids. “I just had this idea that I’d come in, and it would be all good,” he says. Ricafort had shown up once a week to lead diversity exercises and conversations, show videos, and help to build a sense of community among the students. He had gotten to know a few of them pretty well, and felt like they were finally warming up to him. So last year, when he and a group of college friends established a free summer camp with the exclamatory name “Eayikes,” he was pretty disappointed when none of his Beach High School students showed up.
“Once summer came around,” says Ricafort, “and we got the venue and the insurance, they started dropping off one by one. It really hurt me, and I decided that if I’m going to do this, I better go all in”—which he did: He quit his job as tour director of the media production company Roadtrip Nation so he could work with young people full-time.
Luckily, kids from other schools and programs, brought in by Ricafort’s fellow mentors, had actually attended that first camp, which turned out to be a pretty substantial success. The first Camp Eayikes held workshops that included dance, creative writing, and cooking, activities that pulled the kids outside of their comfort zones and taught them to be part of a team. More than anything they learned how to trust and rely upon one another and cultivate a sense of self-esteem. “We just wanted to show them that you have to find the value of your own experience, the value of who you are as person, regardless of what you’ve accomplished, or feel you should have accomplished,” explains Ricafort. “Your own perspective, your individual perspective is important, is valuable.”
In the organization’s first fundraising video, footage from the program shows a group of teens dancing, skateboarding, laughing— one girl says that she just had her first conversation with a schoolmate whom she regularly sees, but has never spoken to. “A lot of butterflies in the stomach [from] being put on the spot,” says another young woman. “But everyone was all acceptance, acceptance, acceptance.”
Of course, as anyone heading up a successful organization will tell you, if you want to be taken seriously, you have to have an acronym. “We were trying to find a name,” says Ricafort, “and what we wanted these kids to be was ‘Engaged, Empowered, Exposed, Informed, Inspired, Citizens of a Community.’” But EEEIICC just didn’t roll off the tongue, and the group playfully embraced its own silly attempts to pronounce the awkward acronym, Eayikes. “ It’s funny to hear people try to pronounce it,” he says. “Say it however you want to.”
Since that first camp, Eayikes has attained non-profit status and held its second large event, an outdoor camping trip called “Wildernizzle” in Malibu Creek State Park. This time, Ricafort’s Beach High kids actually showed up.
A number of smaller follow up events have also kept the mentors and students engaged with one another. Just last month, Eayikes was one of the sponsors behind a “human library” event in Long Beach. Volunteers from marginalized or minority groups offer themselves up as “human books” that can be checked out by library patrons and asked any question a “reader” might have about their life and background. Ricafort describes an Eayikes camper and volunteer human book named Juan, whose parents are stuck back in Mexico, and who lives here in California under the DREAM act. “He lives with his grandparents and his dream is to be a soccer player,” Ricafort says. “He had a rough transition being apart from his family. That’s why he left his school and had to go to Beach High—he had to get his credits right.”
In a video for the human library event, Juan and three other young men explain the concept behind the project. They shuffle, smiling, bumping shoulders, obviously enjoying being there, but nervous about speaking to the camera. “We want you to be curious and enthusiastic,” says Juan. “This is your chance to not only learn about [the human books], but about yourselves.”
Ricafort enthusiastically characterizes Juan’s experience: “This is a super humble kid,” says Ricafort. “He had someone waiting to check him out every single day. People were taking pictures of him, holding his hand; he just loved having the chance to tell it his own way. I just remember looking at him. The kid was just shining, you know—glowing, all about it—he was just so happy. There was this validation—it was just this really amazing experience.”
This 3-part editorial series is brought to you by GOOD, in partnership with Target. We’ve teamed up to explore educational projects that are creatively engaging students outside of a traditional classroom environment. Learn how you can help Target help schools here.