Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

As promised, more good news from our Virtual Summer Camps.

Camp 4 – Book/Writer Camp: I am thrilled to be the adult facilitator, along with peer educator facilitator, LaShauna Carruthers. Book/Writer Camp celebrates the love of reading and the written word. Campers discuss their favorite books, read excerpts from them and complete writing prompts. Guest speaker Observer-Reporter staff writer Karen Mansfield shared her passion for reporting, since she believes each of us have a story she can share. One of our camper’s writing prompts created an original mystery that had us all intrigued. This camp was so popular, we created a weekly book club that meets via zoom at 3 p.m. Wednesdays. Email me for the link.

Camp 5 – Culinary Camp: Adult facilitators, Janell Mallory and Landan Weakland, peer educator facilitator, LaShauna Carruthers. This camp is ready for the Food Channel. Landan and LaShauna select 10 recipes for each camp: two breakfasts, two snacks, two lunches, two dinners and two desserts. All meals are microwavable, to protect our 12- to 14-year-olds’ kitchens. Parents are given a list of ingredients before camp. Each week is a different set of recipes. L.A. Sweets baker Linda Adkins was a popular guest and taught the campers to make Banana Split Cake. The banter between our facilitators is my favorite part of this fun camp. One snack was microwave Rice Krispie treats. In prep, the finished product was flawless, but, on video, it exploded in the microwave. Said our young facilitator calmly, “Now, we will teach you how to clean a microwave.” Every Friday is our version of “Chopped,” where the campers have 30 minutes to create their own dish.

Camp 6 – Games Camp: Adult facilitator, Landan Weakland and peer educator facilitator, Christian Messmer. Can you imagine playing virtual games with other young people in a safe, relaxed environment, every day for two hours? Many of our games campers return again and again to the next Games Camp.

Camp 7 – Photography Camp: adult facilitator, Steven Pascoe, peer educator facilitator Rowan Curry, junior peer educator facilitator Elizabeth Engle. Pascoe is a professional photographer who came onto camp as a speaker and stayed as facilitator. Erika Hatfield and Jennifer Messmer took time from their busy schedules to speak about their experiences as photographers as well. I was impressed with the photography journals the campers kept. One parent’s comment, “This experience really solidified my daughter’s love of taking pictures. She learned so much and is continuing photography after the camp. She had so much fun, too. Thank you.”

Camp 8 – Theater Camp: adult facilitator, Amy Podgurski Gough, peer educator facilitator Sophia Curry, and junior peer educator facilitator Jai Gough. Not only did these campers explore their love of all theater, they enjoyed clips of musical theater and wrote their own original plays. We had outstanding speakers in Adam Brock, American Idol finalist and performer extraordinaire, and Sarah Smith, alumni of our peer educator educational theater group Real Talk Performers and college theater. Once again, this camp created such interest and a bond between the campers that we started a weekly Theater Club that meets virtually at 3 p.m. every Thursday. Email me if any 12- to 14-year-old theater enthusiast wants to join us.

Camp 9 – Travel Camp: afdult facilitator, Liz Glowark. We are so fortunate to have Glowark as a facilitator. She is a peer educator alumni who spoke three times in our regular 7 p.m. zooms with teens. A chemical engineer by profession, Liz accomplished the goal of traveling to all seven continents before her 30th birthday. Glowark is presenting about Antarctica, Africa, Asia and Europe. Speaker Victoria Smith, Spanish teacher and former Advisory Board member, tag teams with Glowark to discuss South and Central America. I will finish the camp with presentations on my trips to Russia and China. Campers are creating their own “dream trips,” complete with travel itinerary and budgets.

Camp 10 – Wellness Camp: adult facilitator, Janell Mallory and peer educator facilitator Patrick Bryant, who taught the campers stretching daily. Exploring wellness took our campers through relaxation/mindfulness and nutrition, both taught by me, healthy dental care, presented by Dr. Cynthia Schuler, exercise, led by Megan Campbell Leslie, and Tai Chi, taught by Dorothy Curley Tecklenburg. The campers created their own wellness plan and presented it Friday.

“My mom made me enroll in Wellness Camp, but I really had fun. I liked learning to relax, exercising and doing tai chi. I added those things to my own wellness plan,” a camper commented.

There are many challenges because of COVID-19, but spending time with amazing young people is a positive that arose from the lockdown and school closings.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email

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