According to the Trevor Project, 45% of LGBTQ youth considered attempting suicide in the past year.

But a local camp brings young people together to encourage self-exploration and changes lives.

Dropping tags at the door and walking in a safe space, LGBTQ youth call Diversity Camp home.

Every summer, young people aged 12 to 17 have the chance to make friends and express their authentic identity.

Diversity Camp Inc. Board of Directors Joshua Olinger came up with the idea eight years ago to give kids a place to connect with people like them.

“To find a community because that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “A lot of children who come here don’t have these things at home. If that’s where they can get it and we can get more people here, the more the better.

As the LGBTQ community faces issues of discrimination, bullying and mental health, a camp counselor said Diversity Camp helps them overcome depression.

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“It’s really difficult and upsetting for these children not to be accepted in their hometown,” they said. “So having that escape and being able to connect with people outside of that is so important.”

Campers come from as far away as Virginia Beach or out of state for a chance to transform.

“But parents are transforming to understand ‘wow, my child is happier. The spark of joy is back,'” said Dolly Davis, vice president of the board of directors of Diversity Camp Inc.

Along with pride flags on display, artwork from former campers line the camp.

Every billboard is filled with messages of inclusivity.

Emmett Donavan attended camp in 2015 and learned a valuable lesson that inspired him to teach others as a camp counselor.

“Wherever I want to be who I am, that’s how it should be,” Donavan said. “I want to give that back to the campers who are here now.”

As campers walk away with a newfound self-confidence, organizers and counselors walk away with a new level of pride in having shaped a freer and safer generation.

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If you want to support the camp, you can donate on their website.

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