Alumnus Nick Teich, MSW ’09, the founder and CEO of Harbor Camps, was recognized in a ceremony on January 27 in Gasson Hall for his distinguished accomplishments in the field of social work. Nick sat down with BCSSW after the ceremony to discuss what Boston College meant to him, and how the support he received here has allowed him to establish, and grow, a first-of-its kind inclusive camp for transgender youth.
Congratulations on your alumni award Nick. Tell us what it means to be recognized by Boston College, and what your experience at the school has meant to you.
Nick Teich: I was thrilled and humbled to be recognized by the Boston College School of Social Work for what I do – I feel fortunate that I can do what I love, and that I can help some people along the way.
BCSSW was, and continues to be, a very supportive place. I’m still in touch with faculty members whom I consider lifelong mentors and friends, and who provide supports to me personally, and in my career.
Boston College provided a forum for me to explore, and to figure out what I really wanted to do, which ended up being something completely different from what I set out to accomplish when I first arrived on campus. I was a clinical track student, so I was doing therapy in my internships. But the macro courses I took also fascinated me, so I wanted to find a way to combine the two in my life’s work.
BC afforded me an incredibly well rounded education and experience. I graduated with a diverse skill set which allowed me to found a non-profit, do the grant writing and fundraising I needed to grow my organization, and then, also, connect with kids who have had to overcome serious issues in their life, and help them to work through these issues.
Tell us more about the non-profit you founded, which at the beginning, consisted of a haven for transgender youth called Camp Aranu’tiq.
NT: I started the camp while I was still at BC; I was able to use the planning and subsequent establishment of the camp as a group project for a macro class I was taking, even enlisting the help of some of my classmates. One of the impetuses for starting Camp Aranu’tiq is that I myself am transgender and was transitioning while I was at BC. I should say, contrary to what many people thought at the time, (2007-2009 was really a long time ago, certainly in transgender years), BC was really a wonderful, welcoming place for me, as I went through that period in my life. It’s not an easy thing to go through, and faculty, staff, and classmates were all so supportive of me.
As a kid, I went to camp and loved it. I didn’t realize exactly what was going on gender-wise, but it was a place where I felt like I could be myself, and that I could be accepted for who I was. Later in life I was asked to not come back as a counselor at a different camp I volunteered at because I was transitioning, as the camp leadership said it would not be good for the welfare of the kids. That was really shocking to me, because of who I thought these people were, and very hard for me. No adult, and certainly, no child, should be made to feel excluded because of who they are.
Camp Aranu’tiq has been very successful, and grown into a group of camps. Tell us more about this burgeoning organization.
NT: We had 40 campers that first summer during a one-week period at Camp Aranu’tiq. Fast forward several years, Harbor Camps, as our organization is now called as it’s grown, consists of eight sessions in New Hampshire and California, and serves more than 600 marginalized youth, including kids living with skeletal dysplasia. A camp for children with craniofacial anomalies will be added in 2018.
Harbor Camps offers a safe place for kids who often deal with hardships because of who they are, so at our camps they can just relax and concentrate on being kids. As a social worker who believes in the power of mental health and therapy, I can say that this is certainly not a therapeutic camp. What I mean by that is kids don’t have to sit and talk in support groups or meet with a therapist. Instead they can go canoeing, or shoot archery, or enjoy a good meal and think about what their next activity is, and be in a cabin living with kids just like them because organically it is therapeutic. I feel very strongly about this being the way that our camp operates.
BC gave me a strong foundation in mental health and clinical training. This went a long way toward helping me create Harbor Camps. Our kids sometimes come in with a lot of baggage. Many have anxiety and depression because they are constantly navigating what it means to be “different” in the world. But what it so often comes down to is that these young people need a space where they can build resilience and confidence; where, for example, a transgender kid can rock climb or go kayaking for the first time as their true gender. This is what we are all about.