When you come from an adverse home environment, the last thing you believe is that you can actually believe, let alone fly an airplane, produce a documentary, build a house with your own two hands or learn computers from the guy who actually invented computers. But at The Patane Foundation’s Dream Camps, belief in oneself comes with the territory and accomplishments like these happen every day.
It’s noon in Los Gatos, California as Steve Wozniak zips around on a Segway. He sports head-to-toe polo attire and eagerly swings his mallet at the small wooden ball below. He misses and a horde of teenagers close in on him. It’s a wacky rendition of such a stoic past time, but as in every other Dream Camp put on by The Patane Foundation, Camp Woz prides itself on eccentricity being the gateway to something great. And it is.
Otherwise deemed outcasts with no future, these participating teens are having a blast at Camp Woz and pretty soon, all ten of them are going to be in Wozniak’s garage (yes, garage) for an impromptu lesson on the ins and outs of computers. Did I mention that each kid gets his or her own laptop, iPod, and digital camera? This may all sound a bit out of context for those who understand Wozniak’s technological influence on the world, but for those who know him only as the quirky guy who got booted off Dancing With The Stars in week four, Steve’s exuberance isn’t just part of his trademark personality, but it’s also a calculated effort to help reshape the future for these kids. And the Wizard of Dream Camp Woz himself, Mr. Joe Patane, is helping these kids dream through his own quirky approach to youth mentorship. And he’s doing it all free for the campers and staff.
Joe is unpretentious and habitually jubilant. His business suit is a T-Shirt and gym shorts and his heavy Brooklyn accent takes a back seat to his calm and reassuring voice. He’s the youngest of eight children and credits his parents for keeping him on the right track. I’ve known Joe for a long time and was his roommate many moons ago. But before that, Joe was a roommate to the world when he landed himself as an MTV Real World cast member back in 1996. While tumultuous and detrimental to his personal life (he is the only cast member to date who obtained permission to write a book about the show, suitably titled Livin In Joe’s World), the show enabled him to re-evaluate his imprint on the world.
Now, Joe is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, full-time Philanthropist and Founder of the above-mentioned Dream Camp Foundation, a not-for-profit (501c3) corporation that helps change the predicament for underprivileged kids. As his website claims, the organization’s mission is to: “Empower participating youth to find their strengths through exposure to the arts, sciences, wellness, and more.” They do this by peer-to-peer mentorship, hands on activities and full immersion into an atmosphere far removed from the youths’ troubled domestic environment. On the ground, however, the actual mission far outreaches it’s printed definition.
“To live everyday with a little bit of surprise, a little bit of not knowing what’s going to happen and a little bit of taking risk… that’s what life is about, that’s living to me.” It’s that mantra that Joe tries to instill. He wants them to simply be kids, embrace who they are and work hard to achieve a productive and positive life through their own found passions. He wants them to forget what they’ve been told they can’t do and instead do. This is how he approaches each of his Dream Camps.
The organized group excursions not only build character and confidence in those that attend, but they also allow for the kids to produce something tangible; something that each and every participant can be proud of.
At the foundation’s Dream Camp: Cal Earth, each camper built a housing structure out of 100% sustainable materials while at Dream Camp: Air, Land & Sea, campers learned how to fly a plane and hang glide. Whether making a documentary film through the foundation’s film mentoring project, Buggle Productions, learning the basics of ranching in picturesque Wyoming or just having the ability to finally “chill” (one of Joe’s trademark phrases, by the way), each camp creates an instant family for the participants and allows them to escape the environments that brought them here in the first place.
That’s a lofty idea and a relatively well-known approach to youth outreach initiatives, but the difference here is in the follow up. Joe is well aware of the power this exposure has on these kids, but he also knows that when they return home, they are going back to a depraved situation one way or another. It’s there that they struggle to learn and participate in diverse social structures, because they are told they can’t or even worse, not told anything at all. Many have suffered abuse, bullying, labeling, failed foster situations, and much more while others simply lack a loved one championing their interests and well-being. Whatever the case, their perception of the world and the world’s perception of them is murky and dubious. But it isn’t to say hope is lost on them.
Like his friendship with Wozniak, Joe makes sure to keep genuine ties with those around him, both in and out of the Dream Camps. It’s his authentic nature and the only way he knows – something that comes in quite handy when your task is helping those that need it most.
In the end, it’s about possibilities and encouragement and at Dream Camp Foundation, it’s the principles of positivity that help these kids learn their way while making a substantial contribution in the world. For Joe, the contribution lives on as he gears up for Dream Camp TV (based on this past summer’s Dream Camp California) and Dream Camp NYC coming this June.
What’s your contribution? Reach out to The Patane Foundation to see how you can help. Visit www.joesworld.org or like Dream Camp Foundation on Facebook.
Aaron T. Lyles
(Original article posted on [wiz duh m])
* second image photo credit: ‘Dream Camp Woz’ Segway Polo with Campers Zack Karper and Eric Sanborn – Photo By Paul Chalifour – Copyright Dream Camp Foundation, www.joesworld.org
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