De Confianza

Laity Lodge Family Camp’s retreat with Austin Voices for Education and Youth allowed families to embrace both the familiar and different.

LLFC has de con fianza

WORDS BY BETH AVILA + PHOTOS BY WENDI POOLE

he music played loudly as moms and dads sang along and cheered—and their kids stared in confusion.

In Laity Lodge Family Camp’s beloved game, “Hey Mr. DJ,” select campers act as Roundup DJ, choosing the song they think fits best for various categories from Best Break-Up Song to Best Song to Sing in the Shower.

Turns out “Hey Mr. DJ” exposes hilarious generation gaps.

“It was funny because the older generation of folks, me included, knew [‘Suavemente’ by Elvis Crespo] to be a popular song to dance to,” said Mitch Ingram, who joined the September 2023 Family Camp retreat. “But because there were a lot of younger generations there, that song’s status had been demoted to ‘a song that my mom puts on when we have to clean the house on Saturdays,’” Ingram laughed.

Also, at this particular Roundup, some of the families weren’t just experiencing a generation gap—they were also experiencing a language gap. The song’s lyrics are entirely in Spanish—the primary language for most of the families that attended the retreat through Austin Voices for Education and Youth (AVEY).

 

AVEY is a nonprofit with a mission to create community collaboration that strengthens families, supports kids, and improves schools. The organization started in 2003 with Julie and Allen Weeks, members of Austin’s Covenant Presbyterian Church, who advocated for a local neighborhood whose school was in danger of shutting down.

According to AVEY, one of the problems schools in lower-income neighborhoods face is how often the families of these students move from place to place following job opportunities, disrupting the students’ learning experience.

“Austin Voices wants to help parents financially—whether by paying for rent, electricity bills, or providing a food pantry. We have social workers that work directly with the parents. This way the parents can stay in the Austin area for longer, and the kids stay in the same school throughout the entire year,” explained AVEY’s Adult Education Coordinator, Evangeline Herring. “When they move a lot, they lose a lot.”

Parents can also go to AVEY for things like GED classes, job-readiness classes, and ESL (English as a Second Language) classes—all of which are held at the local schools they partner with.

A Blended Retreat

artnership and collaboration have been at the heart of everything AVEY does. That’s why the organization, which predominantly serves Hispanic and immigrant families, said yes to teaming up with LLFC and Covenant Presbyterian Church, which has a predominantly white, middle-class congregation, to create a family camp retreat that was both racially and economically diverse.

The idea was birthed from a conversation Executive Director for Laity Lodge Camping Programs, Cary Hendricks, had with his good friend, Thomas Daniel, the senior pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church.

“I shared with him that I wanted to put on a retreat that was economically and culturally mixed, and he brought up the Weeks,” said Cary. “The Weeks had a foot in the door at Covenant as members and a foot in Austin Voices as founders, so we had the idea to pull groups of families from both organizations to come together for a retreat in the Canyon.”

Every other year since 2018, around fifteen families from AVEY and ten families from Covenant Presbyterian attend the retreat.

On top of her other responsibilities with the organization, Herring teaches a parenting class for AVEY families. Those who participate in the 13-class parenting course then attend the partnership retreat in the Canyon.

“I call [the Canyon] heaven on earth—not only because it’s a beautiful place, but it’s a place we can bring people of different socio-economic backgrounds together to get to know each other,” said Herring. “And many of the Austin Voices families have never experienced a camp setting before. Their smiles and gratitude brought such joy.”

“The people that the Foundation hires really show love to our families,” said Herring. “They make the effort to interact with each kid and adult. They create conversations with them and learn their stories. Also, just knowing that everything is provided to them—that instead of taking care of everybody, people are taking care of them—is very special for these families.”

Embracing The Unusual

ome of the newness of camp stemmed from cultural differences that one may have never considered. Take hiking, for example.

“In Spanish there is no word for ‘hike’,” said Ingram, who acted as the retreat’s interpreter for the weekend. “A lot of the families were immigrants from Mexico and Central America, where you walk to your job, so the idea of just walking to walk is a bit strange for them.”

Ingram went on to explain, “All the [camp] adventure stuff is very American and European. But everyone was open to trying these new things because there was trust there… so coming out and shooting a bow and arrow, or throwing a tomahawk, ended up being very fun for all the families.”

That element of trust between the AVEY families and the LLFC staff is what Ingram called confianza. The Spanish word combines con, which means “with,” and fianza, which translates to “faith.” When someone is de confianza, it means they are trustworthy. The families stepped into these brand-new experiences “with faith” in those leading the activities.

“I definitely think confianza was established and strengthened through this process,” Ingram said. “It’s a really good word to epitomize what was going on.”

Singing across language gaps was another new experience. Camper Laura Sinacori, who attended the retreat through Covenant Presbyterian, recalled the slip-ups and laughs as worship songs were sung partly in English and partly in Spanish.

“It was so human and funny,” she said. “But by the middle of the next day, I wasn’t waiting for the pause when switching languages anymore. It felt seamless, which was surprising.”

LLFC used a Spanish playlist when welcoming their guests as they arrived at Headwaters.

“Language is very much a part of our identity. It’s an expression of meaning, and every culture, every person who has ever lived, seeks meaning. Language is a vehicle to do so,” said Ingram, who teaches in the Bilingual Biliteracy Program at Texas State University. “Language is something that on the outside appears superficial and surface level because we can hear it… but it goes deeply down to who we are and how we make sense of the world.”

Ingram described the retreat environment as one where everyone was allowed to speak their language and have their culture, and to learn from others, too. It was a space where people could embrace both the familiar and the different.

Ingram said the retreat “transcended any sort of negative stereotypes of certain people groups—what Latino folks might think about the gringos and vice versa—but when you have people that are from distinct groups like that, where there is integration and shared community, it’s a beautiful thing.”

 

Latino Outdoors

“In Spanish, there is no word for ‘hike’,” Mitch Ingram said. That’s why a few months ago, Latino Outdoors hosted their annual national gathering at Singing Hills, where they encouraged each other and strategized about how to build more Latino and Hispanic interest in outdoor activities in each of their regions throughout the country.

Josie Gutierrez, the San Antonio regional coordinator for the organization, said, “I always think … what if somebody like one of us would have come over and said, ‘Hey, I want to take you and your mom and dad outside…’ to let you understand that there’s more than just your backyard, right?”

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