This is starting out to be a disastrous summer for high schoolers.
The coronavirus pandemic has taken an axe to many if not most of their job possibilities, from camp counselors to retail. Social distancing will make it much more difficult for kids to play sports and get the exercise they need.
Into the breach steps Courtney Eldridge.
The Portland, Oregon-based writer and eco-preneur has created Camp Velo, a virtual camp that fuses cycling and other physical activity, with environmentalism as well art and creativity.
GreenSportsBlog spoke with Eldridge and Michelle Yamamoto, Camp Velo’s 16-year-old graphic designer, about their vision for the three-week program that launches July 13.
Courtney Eldridge had to invent Camp Velo.
No one else on the planet could have conceived a virtual, one-month camp for 14-18 year-olds starting July 13 that:
- Unleashes their athletic and creative sides every day, with a strong serving of environmental and arts education.
- Hourly 15-minute stretch breaks, led by the students themselves, will kickstart each class
- Students will use Active Giving’s app — it converts exercise into planted trees, thanks to corporate sponsors — to track their workouts during the camp.
- Cycling will be a main focus, both in terms of stationary bike exercise as well as cycling repair, ergo the Velo in the Camp Velo name
- Lessons will connect sports, art, current events like COVID and racial injustice with the climate crisis
- Students will be challenged to consider ways of greening their school sports and athletics programs
- Drawing, painting, creative writing and other art-related modules are designed to inspire and engage
- Provides them with rigorous homework that keeps their minds active, all while giving them an important credential.
- Will run from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM Pacific Time from Monday to Friday for three straight weeks.
Week four will see each student produce their own digital “zine” based on the talks and courses delivered during the previous three weeks. Camp Velo staff will hold office hours to review campers’ work, helping them deliver the best possible product at camp’s end.
Speakers will include leaders from Bike Portland and Oregon Sports News. Gear up-cycler Looptworks will lead a conversation on circular economies and Portland’s Nutcase Helmets will offer a design talk. The Pratt Phil women’s racing team will moderate a round-table about diversity and inclusivity in cycling. Photographers, artists and fitness instructors will share their expertise as well, giving the camp an enviable well-roundedness.
[FULL DISCLOSURE: I will have a speaking role during Camp Velo]
Yes, Eldridge is that rare sportsy-artsy-teen-focused-eco-preneur-activist, traveling the world to gain that unique skill set.
Her sportsy side came from growing up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado — aka Ski Town, USA, aka Bike Town USA.
“We’re a bona fide Olympian factory,” enthused¹ Eldridge. “Steamboat Springs was a skiing and cycling capital. Did you know that we produce more U.S. Olympians per capita than any other city in the country²?”
Eldridge’s artistic side was developed during her college days at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence and then further refined as a writer in New York City where she had her first two books published and contributed a number of articles to the New York Times Magazine.
After moving to Argentina in 2008 just as the Great Recession hit, she pivoted again, this time to write Young Adult (YA) fiction.
“The entire publishing industry was imploding—except for the kids and teen markets, which were exploding,” Eldridge recalled. “I was living a world away and the internet was supposed to be this incredibly creative experiment, so I launched a collaboration with hundreds of teen artists from around the world. And that’s how my first YA book was written.”
Eventually, Eldridge returned to the U.S. in 2010, landing in Los Angeles to pursue screenwriting. 2014 saw another move — this time to Portland, Oregon — to work as a producer on a feature-length environmental documentary film, “A River Runs Between Us,” that was aimed to foster the largest river-restoration project in United States history by removing dams on the Klamath River.
By late 2019 Eldridge was ready to pull these seemingly disparate vectors of her life together. She prepared to launch a new company, Full Court Press, with the goal of turning active youth into youth activists, envisioning publications, events and more.
And then the coronavirus hit.
The tragic headlines on COVID-19 are almost universally well-known: More than 120,000 Americans dead and a 13.3 percent unemployment rate. Eldridge dug deeper and saw relatively an underreported storm cloud forming: A summer full of under-employed, under-educated, relatively inactive teens.
“High school students face an awful summer on many levels,” shared Eldridge. “No summer jobs, no internships, no camps, no arts and very little in the way of sports. Their depression rates are skyrocketing, greater than any other age group: and no wonder. This realization led me to create Camp Velo, a virtual camp that combines physical activity with arts, climate education components.”
Eldridge believes the era (COVID, Black Lives Matter and climate crises) and the audience (young people) combine to form the perfect petri dish for the Camp Velo virtual experiment.
“Going virtual of course expands our potential reach from Portland, Oregon to the whole world, basically,” Eldridge noted. “This heightens the potential educational impact, as well as the ability of campers to express their creative sides. And it is a much greener platform than an in-person camp.”
High school students played important roles in the development of Camp Velo and will help run it.
Michelle Yamamoto is one such teen. The 16 year-old is responsible for the design of Camp Velo’s promotional materials.
“I am so excited to be a part of Camp Velo,” Yamamoto shared. “Developing the posters, the media kit and the slide presentation has been so much fun. I look forward to helping Courtney make sure everything goes smoothly and that the students get as much as they can out of the experience.”
Camp Velo’s focus on the environment and climate change is not lost on Yamamoto.
“Climate change is something everyone I know in my generation is interested in and acting upon,” said the rising junior at Portland’s Lincoln High School. “My friends are all interested in thrifting as opposed to ‘fast fashion’ when looking for new clothes. Camp Velo’s curriculum will be geared to kids like us.”
The price of the four week camp is $450 if paid by July 1, $600 after that. Some students will be allowed to audit the camp — no homework, no contests, etc. — for $375. Camp Velo will have a maximum of 100 campers.
If Eldridge’s hunch is right, Camp Velo will help those 100 campers become 100 difference makers: “COVID-19 presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink not only the world of sports, but our entire education system, and most especially Physical Education. Looking at the world today, thinking about what lies ahead, turns out that every once in a while, we really do need to reinvent the wheel, literally and figuratively speaking. That’s why we’re approaching teens as agents of change and bikes as vehicles of change: and putting the two together is a winning combination from every angle.”
Click here to find out more about Camp Velo, including registration.
¹ I could have used “enthused” as a verb in every Eldridge quote.
² I did not know this.