The Seven Tepees program is a safe center for kids in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District that embraces a unique model of long-term and comprehensive support for vulnerable youth. Many participants live at or below the poverty level and have been victims of violence. From 5th to 12th grade, kids receive tutoring, mentoring and job training services to develop self-esteem, academic excellence and community values.
Four times each year Seven Tepees offers outdoor experiences—often rafting, camping and hiking trips—that staff find the most powerful in helping kids grow into thriving adults. “We have seen first-hand that connecting to nature helps many of our kids heal from the trauma of violence,” says Executive Director Diane Dodge.
Through the support of The Guardsmen Campership Program, Seven Tepees sends a group of kids for two weeks each summer to Hidden Villa, a residential camp that emphasizes environmental stewardship and multiculturalism, and where many youth get their first chance to milk cows, grow their own vegetables, and participate in eco-friendly projects such as food composting.
When Hidden Villa stopped its program for high school kids a few summers ago, Seven Tepees struggled to find an alternative outdoor program for its older teens—until The Guardsmen stepped up to sponsor a four-day retreat addressing themes such as nonviolent communication, sexual education, safety and positive interaction with law enforcement.
“At the retreat, I learned a lot about communication skills,” says Nestor, a five-year veteran of Seven Tepees and Hidden Villa. “Now when I’m talking to a friend, a teacher or my parents, I know how to explain my feelings better. I have grown a lot as a person. I’m doing much better in school now, and I’m a lot more open-minded.”
“Our teenagers tell us that the high school retreat was the best experience that they’ve ever had with Seven Tepees,” says Dodge. “And we couldn’t have done it without The Guardsmen’s support.”
“The high school retreat was really emotional,” says Leshanti, an eight-year participant of Seven Tepees who will attend San Francisco City College. “Away from the City, we were able to share our feelings and our fears with our friends from Seven Tepees on a more personal level than ever before.”