We recently launched a partnership with Brave Trails – an awesome national non-profit organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ youth leadership. While we're excited to support them well beyond June (both through donations and by getting the Toad team out to volunteer), Pride Month felt like the perfect time to shine a little light on all the good they're doing in support of LGBTQ+ youth.
We sat down with Jessica Weissbuch (she/her), Brave Trails Co-founder and Executive Director, to talk about the inspiration behind Brave Trails, her favorite camp memories, and what it means to be a good ally.
Toad&Co: Can you start by telling us a bit about Brave Trails' and some of the different programs you offer?
Jessica: Brave Trails helps build the next generation of LGBTQ leaders. We offer accredited summer camps, family camps, mentorship programs, meet-up groups, and year-round leadership programming. All of our programs focus on helping LGBTQ+ youth find what they need most to thrive: their people, their place, and their passion. Nothing makes us more proud than seeing our youth take the skills they gain in our programs and use them to create meaningful change in their communities.
Toad: That all sounds incredible, and who doesn't love summer camp?! What's your favorite camp memory?
Jessica: I went to a few camps when I was a kid, and my favorite memory of day camp was making slime! I also belonged to a youth group growing up that was like a day camp for me. The group held annual lock-ins at the local middle school, and I looked forward to them all year round. It was the place I was able to really become who I was and learn about myself. We had workshops, performances, leadership opportunities and so much more. This is where I built my community and where some of the inspiration for Brave Trails came from!
Toad: When did you first co-found Brave Trails and what else inspired you?
Jessica: My wife and I co-founded Brave Trails at the end of 2014 and had our first camp the summer of 2015. It was born out of my wife’s love of summer camp – she had the amazing opportunity to go to camp on almost a full scholarship and it shaped who she is today (like the amazing youth group I belonged to shaped who I am today). I'm also a marriage and family therapist that focuses on queer youth leadership and development, so Brave Trails was really a combination of both of our loves! You can read more about our story on the Brave Trails website.
Toad: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while getting the organization off the ground?
Jessica: We have had challenges over the years, but honestly it has been so much fun creating Brave Trails. I think an on-going challenge for all non-profits (us included) is raising enough funds to run a really quality organization.
Toad: At age 5, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Jessica: At age 5, I think I wanted to be a mom, which I now am! When I was in middle school I wanted to be a physical therapist.
Toad: Congratulations! Living out the 5-year old dream is always an accomplishment in our book. What gets you out of bed and keeps you inspired every day (we have some guesses)?
Jessica: Personally, what keeps me inspired everyday is my son. He is 4 years old and I am in such awe of him and his growth. I joke and say he is more emotionally intelligent than most people I know!
Professionally, I am continuously inspired by the amazing youth we work with. I am so impressed by how wise beyond their years they are. They are true change makers and the world doesn’t give our youth enough credit.
Toad: What's your best piece of advice for future leaders?
Jessica: Be true to yourself and find an amazing community to support you in all of your adventures!
Toad: What’s something about yourself that not many people know?
Jessica: Such a good question…I was in a sorority (Alpha Chi Omega) in college and I LOVED it so much!
Toad: That's a great one! What can people do to be good allies every day? What are some of the dos and don'ts of allyship?
Jessica: To me being a good ally is not only accepting folks, but also showing up for them and walking with them. For example if you have a friend that uses they/them and someone misgenders them, politely correct them and move on. Don’t just say you are an ally and wear rainbows or put a rainbow profile picture up and do nothing else...with that said the rainbow profile pictures are wonderful too and sometimes it is a huge statement depending on the community they come from.
Toad: How can people who are reading this blog get involved with Brave Trails?
Jessica: If you want to get more involved with Brave Trails you can always volunteer! We are a leadership camp, so we have folks from the community come to camp and facilitate leadership workshops for our campers. You can apply to become a staff member for the whole summer or volunteer for a session! You can also help us by donating or helping us fundraise – we just bought a new property and it needs a lot of love! We are currently in a $4.5 million comprehensive capital campaign, so support with that is amazing as well!
To learn more about how you can get involved, visit BraveTrails.org.
*All photos taken at Camp Brave Trails.