Elene Nicola has been attending LIFEbeat camps for nearly 10 years – first as a young person, then as a Peer Mentor and now as a Staff Member and Camp Manager. We caught up with Elene to ask her more about her experience and what it is that keeps her coming back.
How did you first come to LIFEbeat?
I first attended LIFEbeat as a young person. I was 15 years old and it was recommended to me by a friend who went the year before.
What has your LIFEbeat journey been since then?
I attended LIFEbeat between the ages of 15-18, and then I became a Peer Mentor and then a staff member. I am now 25 and I have continued to come back to camps as a staff member.
What does LIFEbeat mean to you?
This is hard to put into words but to me, LIFEbeat is a place where you are encouraged to truly be yourself and express yourself as creatively as you wish. I will never tire of witnessing the transformational journeys that both young people and staff go on each year at the LIFEbeat summer camps. These camps are usually held in a secluded spot of natural beauty, away from our busy everyday lives, and they foster such a supportive environment and develop a community that spans across the world. They create an incredibly strong sense of belonging for all involved. It’s unlike any other environment I’ve ever been in. Difference is celebrated, dreams are encouraged and supported, with connection, community, and unity at its core. LIFEbeat empowers young people (and staff) to live freely and as creatively as they wish, all while cultivating a safe space for young people to showcase their vulnerabilities and unique journeys and to be truly heard without judgement.
What is your favourite LIFEbeat memory?
It’s so hard to pick a favourite memory, I have so many wonderful moments that spring to mind. But I’ll mention the first two, one as participant and one as a facilitator.
On my very last camp as a participant, we spent one of our last family group circles running to a rope swing in the woodlands, in the pouring rain. I remember feeling so free in that moment. After what had been a deep, reflective week, building nourishing connections, ending on that moment felt so sacred, so complete.
During another family group circle where I was a staff facilitator, we had been reflecting on an activity in the morning plenary which involved drawing our story and our journey with life so far. As we were sat around a fire, one of the young people in the group spoke up and said we should burn our drawings to signify that our stories do not define us and that we can make our story whatever we want to. I watched as the young people in this small group, one by one burnt their drawings and I remember feeling so moved by this empowering moment.
What work do you do outside of LIFEbeat?
I’m currently in the process of completing a professional doctorate and training to be a Clinical Psychologist in Cambridgeshire.
How has your LIFEbeat training and experience helped to influence your work?
“Passion isn’t something you have, it’s something you develop through action and work.” LIFEbeat played a pivotal role in developing my passion for working within mental health and wellbeing. My experiences and passion for the work that LIFEbeat do long preceded me knowing I wanted to pursue a career as a psychologist. Funny how life sometimes brings you full circle without you even intending it! My training in creative practice facilitation with LIFEbeat has taught me how creative expression can foster collaboration and an element of fun within facilitation. I try to weave these principles into my current work as often as possible.
What insights do you gain from your work that you would like to bring to LIFEbeat?
Working as a psychologist, I have picked up a variety of techniques, activities, skills as well as different perspectives that I could see having their place at LIFEbeat summer camps. However, I would be hesitant to incorporate any big changes that would interfere with the LIFEbeat process, as it is this very process that intertwines so naturally with people and that is truly why it works. You often here the phrase ‘Trust the process’ said around camp, and out of the 9 camps I’ve experienced, I’ve never seen that trust broken. I wouldn’t want to interfere with the magic it brings.
What inspires you?
When I was 17, I read a book called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller and I still think about it often. In this true story, the author goes on a personal journey about making his life meaningful and what that means to him. He makes insightful reflections while writing a movie script about his own life and drawing powerful parallels on what goes into building a good story. Here’s a man just wanting to write a story and he realises he has to LIVE his story to write it down. It inspired me to try to live my story fully and consciously try to make more meaningful memories.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one tip when you were starting out as a facilitator, what would it be?
Being your authentic self is enough. There is no right or wrong way to facilitate. Camp attracts a lot of wonderfully different facilitators all of who bring different strengths with them; some voices may be louder, and some others may be quieter, but all of them are vital to make the magic work. No matter where you fall on this spectrum, you bring a uniqueness to the role just by being you, and that is always more than enough.