beckon us from home

"Beckon Us From Home" is an ongoing project looking at the way the United States passes down patriotic, political and military traditions to younger generations growing up in a divided America.

With activities like water gun games, racing, and tug-a-war, this could easily be mistaken for a YMCA summer camp in Salt Lake City. However, 900 students across Utah are attending a weeklong “Patriot Camp,” focusing on patriotic education and the constitution. At the opening ceremony for the camp, an adult leader led a speech, proclaiming: “Always remember, you are soldiers of God. And nobody in the entire history of the world has ever been as free as you are right now.”

Thousands of youth across the United States are choosing to spend their free time at patriotic camps, clubs, and military programs. This past year, I visited nine of these clubs in eleven different states. While these programs are spread out across isolated communities in the United States, around 400,000 American youth are enrolled annually.

While not all students end up joining the military or changing their life paths, a strong sense of belonging and purpose, tied together with coming of age and the intense vulnerability of this developmental time period, are core factors in what attracts adolescents to these programs. It is my intent to tap into these vital aspects of youth, while also looking at how a nation instills patriotism and passes down military tradition to new generations, and what it is like to grow up in a divided United States of America.

This project has been funded by the Alexia Foundation, along with the CatchLight fellowship in partnership with Reveal.

© Sarah Blesener - Image from the beckon us from home photography project
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Curtis, Kate and Jude, siblings, lay in their backyard in Watford, North Dakota. 6 July 2017. The Long family has five children whom they homeschool. Western North Dakota attracted families from across the nation during the recent oil boom. Watford, like other rural towns in the region, is now facing unemployment and overdevelopment since the decline of the oil industry.

© Sarah Blesener - Image from the beckon us from home photography project
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Female JROTC students from Fern Creek High School test their male classmates during practice for a national drill competition happening in Daytona over the weekend, 3 May 2017, Louisville, KY. Their school holds the record, and the pressure is high for the students to keep their reputation.

© Sarah Blesener - Image from the beckon us from home photography project
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Utah Patriot Camp, a week-long day camp, takes place in Herriman, Utah, 28 June 2017. The camp teaches the constitution, American values, military history, lessons on God's Word, and others. The camp strives to create patriots, and is for elementary-aged children. The Herriman camp hosted 95 students for the week.

© Sarah Blesener - Image from the beckon us from home photography project
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Megan, Stephanie, and Elizabeth, high school seniors, run to their cars, parked in the church parking lot across the street from the high school, after losing their first football game of the season, 25 August 2017, Omaha, Nebraska. Elizabeth Nelson, 17, spends the evening celebrating with her friends during their senior year. She enlisted to the army the summer before her senior year of high school, and will ship out to boot camp three days after she graduates.

© Sarah Blesener - Image from the beckon us from home photography project
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Ryan Roeber (15) practices shooting in her backyard in Warrenton, VA, 22 April 2017. Her dad is watching in the background for her safety and instruction. Ryan is the only female on her shooting team that practices at their local American Legion post. She is hoping that her training will help her be accepted into the Navy after graduating highschool.

© Sarah Blesener - Image from the beckon us from home photography project
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Miller North High School has its first football game of the season, 25 August 2017, Omaha, Nebraska. Elizabeth Nelson, 17, spends the evening celebrating with her friends during their senior year. She enlisted to the army the summer before her senior year of high school, and will ship out to boot camp three days after she graduates.

© Sarah Blesener - Image from the beckon us from home photography project
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After spending the afternoon searching for homecoming dresses, Nelson and her friends spend the evening in downtown Omaha, Nebraska, 26 August 2017. The group of girls met in primary school and have been friends ever since. Now in their senior year of high school, they are spending as much time together as possible, especially with Nelson, 17, shipping off to boot camp for the army three days after graduation.

© Sarah Blesener - A local youth baseball team heads to have their group photo taken in the Badlands, South Dakota, 12 July 2017.
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A local youth baseball team heads to have their group photo taken in the Badlands, South Dakota, 12 July 2017.

© Sarah Blesener - Image from the beckon us from home photography project
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Thomas Dillon (L), Kayla Wayman (M), and Julia Lair (R) spend the evening at Mt. Rushmore for a ceremony promoting two cadets in their unit, as well as to watch a patriotic film and lighting ceremony, Keystone, South Dakota, 13 July 2017. Students from five states around the Midwest spend a week at the Civil Air Patrol Joint Dakota Encampment. The age range is 12-18, with around 60 students in attendance.

© Sarah Blesener - Image from the beckon us from home photography project
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Nelson and her lifelong friends get ready in Jocelynn's bedroom before heading out to look for homecoming dresses together, Omaha, Nebraska, 26 August 2017. The group of girls met in primary school and have been friends ever since. Now in their senior year of high school, they are spending as much time together as possible, especially with Nelson, 17, shipping off to boot camp for the army three days after graduation.

© Sarah Blesener - Image from the beckon us from home photography project
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Youth from Watford City and the reservation celebrate the 4th of July holiday on the Fort Berthold Reservation, 3 July 2017, North Dakota. The group is saying goodbye to one of their friends, Logan, who leaves in two days for boot camp for the Marines. His grandpa inspired him, and he didn't want to work on the oil fields.

© Sarah Blesener - Image from the beckon us from home photography project
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Elizabeth Nelson, 17, waits in the parking lot of Home Depot waiting for her friends after watching their team their first football game of the season, 25 August 2017, Omaha, Nebraska. . Nelson enlisted to the army the summer before her senior year of high school, and will ship out to boot camp three days after she graduates. "I feel like Omaha is not really the place for me. So, I definitely want to move out West if anything. I do kind of want to get the hell out of here."

© Sarah Blesener - Image from the beckon us from home photography project
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Youth from Watford City and the reservation celebrate the 4th of July holiday on the Fort Berthold Reservation, 3 July 2017, North Dakota.

© Sarah Blesener - Image from the beckon us from home photography project
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Bailey Vanderpool (11) of the Young Marines attends a meeting focusing on drug awareness, 11 Feb 2017, Hanover, PA. Hanover and the surrounding districts combine for Young Marines meetings, with a total of around 40 students. Nationwide, the youth group has around 300 clubs. The ages range from 8-18. The Young Marines is a not-for-profit organization focusing on youth development in categories such as citizenship, patriotism, and drug-free lifestyles.

© Sarah Blesener - Image from the beckon us from home photography project
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Elizabeth Nelson, 17, challenges a love interest of her best friend to a push up contest in the parking lot of Home Depot, 25 August 2017, Omaha, Nebraska. The senior friends are spending the evening at their local Sonic hang out after the game. Nelson enlisted to the army the summer before her senior year of high school, and will ship out to boot camp three days after she graduates.

© Sarah Blesener - Image from the beckon us from home photography project
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Marine Military Academy hosts a summer camp on their academic campus in Harlingen, Texas, 17 July 2017. The camp hosts students from around the nation, ages 12-18, with around 300 cadets in attendance.

© Sarah Blesener - Image from the beckon us from home photography project
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Shaelyn, Katy, and Aubrey at Utah Patriot Camp, a week-long day camp, in Herriman, Utah, 29 June 2017. The camp teaches the constitution, American values, military history, lessons on God's Word, and others. The camp strives to create patriots, and is for elementary-aged children. The Herriman camp hosted 95 students for the week.

beckon us from home by Sarah Blesener

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