Preparation Day #1 is in the books, and the UP staff, coaches, and CITs have spent an amazing day getting ready to welcome the buses of campers on Tuesday morning. We were interested in getting the perspective of a first-time UP coach, so these initial impressions come from Joey Shapiro.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I applied to participate as a coach at the Ultimate Peace Training Camp almost on a whim and was a little surprised when I got in. Excited, of course, but surprised. (I mean, building peace in the Middle East by teaching kids to play Ultimate? Sounded right up my alley.) I had clicked through reams of posted photos and watched video clips and interviews from the previous years of camp, read about the stated mission of the organization, and tried to piece together what participation entailed.

It all sounded and looked good…: the method of bringing together young people, Arab and Israeli alike, to have a rich engagement experience in an intensive “camp” environment all focused on learning to play Ultimate–and, more importantly, play together in mixed teams–with its emphasis on Spirit of the Game; images of and testimonials by young people living together, describing the bonds they had developed with the formerly frightening and proximate “Other,” and pouring out their hearts about the lasting bonds they had developed with one another and the preconceived notions about each other now obliterated in a mere week’s time; and posts of enthusiastic volunteer coaches and staff who, with sheer enthusiasm, described the amazing bonds formed across traditional lines of animosity they had witnessed and inspiration they felt in needing–yes, needing–to be a part of it again.

…but was it for real? Was this just another non-profit touting its own success in order to attract funders and fill its coffers? Were the relationships sincere and long-lasting? Were the volunteer staff as dewy-eyed and inspired as they claimed?

Today, I got my answer. Yes, yes, yes, and yes. As staff orientation began this morning–and even in the middle of the night when I arrived, only to find old friends and new awake until all hours of the night catching up, getting to know one another, learning about what brought each of them here to participate in this thing called UP–it was so very clear that what Ultimate Peace is all about: the forging of lasting relationships between people that previously would never have spoken to one another let along called each other friend, happens here. (Or, as one long-time participant asked me upon first meeting me, “What took you so long to get here?”)

This thing of UP Camp, the intense time spent engaged in the act of engaging, the special and truly unique space carved out to allow this endeavor to thrive, is both powerful and effective. Judging from the excitement of returning former-campers now turned CITs and junior counselors at seeing their friends and former counselors and the thrill experienced by returning staff upon seeing those young people returning to share the experiences with a new generation of UP campers (even with a packed planning schedule, when former campers entered orientation meetings, the sharing of information was momentarily stalled so all could greet, hug, and lay eyes upon the returning youth because, how could they not?), this truly is a powerful thing that we will shape together.

I don’t say this lightly or often, but I mean it when I say that I am inspired to be a part of Ultimate Peace and know I will be a part of leaving the world a better place.