Sunny skies, screaming teens in blue t-shirts, small colorful balloons flying around in the air, splashes of water here and there. It was an all out water balloon fight between the student mentors at the first ever BranchOut! picnic.
This past Sunday, August 5th, was the BranchOut end-of-summer celebration picnic at Nottoway Park in Vienna, VA. Around sixty people attended the picnic, and $349.22 was raised to support the program, which is funded mostly by the co-founders of the program, Dr. Yuhsien Wu and Mr. Richard Wang. The event was intended to further promote BranchOut, fundraise, and most of all: a chance for all the mentors to come together, get to know each other, and bond as a team.
Setup for the picnic began at 9:30 AM and at 10:00 AM people began showing up and checking in. When most of the mentors had arrived, everyone formed a large circle and introduced themselves, the school they attend, and grade they will be going into. We then played an icebreaker game called “Never Have I Ever”. In this icebreaker, everyone holds up five fingers, then someone says something they have never done such as: “Never have I ever been to Europe”, and if someone has been to Europe they would put a finger down. The last person with their fingers still up wins! This game helped the mentors get to know each other better and connect over shared interests. After the icebreakers, Dr. Wu gave a speech congratulating the mentors on their hard work this summer and emphasizing the role of teamwork and the benefit of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. Then, the games that revolved around teamwork began!
The first team game the mentors played was Capture the Flag. The mentors were divided into two teams, one led by Daniel Shen and the other by Angela Wu. The game was played on a large field and was filled with intense pep talks, running, and strategy. Before the game began, both teams could be seen on their side talking strategy on how the flag would be captured, and many loud cheers to get the adrenaline flowing. There were many team moments during this game. For example, when a team member was “captured” and put in jail, other team members would run to the other side, risking their freedom to save their fellow teammates. One team member was so intent on saving a teammate, that he slipped in a mud puddle and was drenched in mud water. Though he ended up being caught, his efforts in helping the team were clearly shown. Other times, one teammate would run out onto the other side to distract the opponents, while a few other teammates would run to “capture the flag”. This ended up being the winning strategy for Daniel’s team—while a few players were rescuing teammates from the jail, another player ran after the flag and got it safely to her side. During Capture the Flag it was great to see teammates collaborate and celebrate a shared victory. Even the losing team shared some laughs as they watched their teammates run across to the other side with the hope of capturing the flag but instead, would be chased around, helplessly trying to escape getting tagged. It was nice to see the mentors use their competitiveness (on winning) to come together and help their team succeed.
After the intense game of Capture the Flag, the mentors moved back to the main picnic area and transitioned to the next activity—the water balloon fight. We were all excited to cool down and were even more excited to be able to chase around our friends while attacking them with a nice little surprise. At first, all the mentors ran far away from everyone else, each with three balloons in our hands but unsure of who to hit. Soon after, when the first balloon was thrown, it was clear that the water balloon fight had officially begun. By the end, we were all drenched in water and everyone had a smile on their face. After the water balloon fight, lunch was served; three picnic tables were lined up, and a variety of foods (brought by the mentors) decked out across the tables. A special moment was when the mentors let the parents eat first to show a sign of respect and appreciation for their support. With all the mentors eating together under the pavilion, the bonds between mentors grew stronger. A few mentors connected over K-pop bands, while at other tables it was sports or video games.
When lunch was finished, the mentors all worked together to clean up the water balloon remnants. With the help of all the mentors, everything was cleaned up in an efficient manner. The balloon cleanup reminded mentors that so much more can be done when everyone works as a team, instead of individuals. This captures the strong emphasis BranchOut has on teamwork, which is what makes this program so successful.
With the remaining time left, the mentors formed a circle and began to pass a volleyball around. There were many funny moments, including a few moments of soccer stars saving the volleyball with their foot. On the field, a few other mentors were playing tackle football with each other. Around 1:00 PM, cleanup began, and the mentors all helped out with cleaning the trash, emptying ice out of coolers, and packing food and utensils up. Though the time the mentors spent together last Sunday was brief, the team spirit among the mentors really showed in all different aspects, from games to cleanup.
One goal of the picnic was to help the mentors form stronger relationships with each other, connect over common interests, and create a BranchOut mentor team. Just like our experience as a BranchOut team, we all started off as strangers, hesitant to talk to each other when we first met at the June training session. But, over the course of the summer, all the mentors were able to connect with each other in one way or another: through weekly meetings, sharing mentoring memories, or even planning the picnic. Ultimately, at the conclusion of this five-week experience with the program, we have gone from strangers to friends and we have all contributed to the inspiring ways that education can bring people from different cultures, and social classes, together.
The picnic really emphasized the fact that BranchOut is not your typical tutoring program as the team spirit and student-based leadership is what makes the it so unique. The picnic was organized by the BranchOut student management team. The four main student organizers of this event were senior Angela Wu of Wootton High School, senior Daniel Shen of TJHSST, junior Marina Wang of McLean High School, and junior Lawrence Zhu of Oakton High School. They helped with the promotion and organization of this event. However, the picnic would not have been a success without the help of Dr. Wu, picnic attendees, mentors, parents, and supporters.