The Labor Day weekend of 2023 saw SSSIO-USA members and their families in the South-Central Region come together at the URJ Greene Family Camp in Bruceville, TX for two and half days filled with joy, music, spiritual growth and service.

Each morning started blissfully with a peaceful light meditation followed by devotional singing. Daily activities included multiple workshops for personal enrichment and spiritual growth based on the age groups of the participants. Three tracks of programs: Adult, Young Adult (YA) and Sai Spiritual Education (SSE), ensured that workshops and activities could be focused specifically for each age group. Distinguished speakers like Harish Naidu, National Council President, SSSIO-USA, and Ajay Yekkirala, President of Sri Sathya Sai Center of Norwood in MA and Research Fellow, Harvard Medical School talked to the attendees about difficult topics such as overcoming the ego in a convivial seminar type setting.

Attendees also enjoyed listening to Aravind Balasubramanya, who was Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s official photographer, as he discussed moving from I to Sai. A melodic youth-led music program energized both listeners and participants in the evening with a notably uplifting singing of the Panchrathna Krithis.

Worthwhile service activities which threaded through the entire weekend became a way for attendees to inculcate a sense of community and civic values as they applied their knowledge and skills to better their environment and help others in need. Following a workshop on environmental sustainability, attendees planted 21 fruit trees in the camp and also took home about 300 saplings to plant back in their own areas.

The Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) program for younger participants started with icebreaker activities to teach the values of teamwork and collaboration. This was followed by insightful sessions led by Ajay Yekkirala and Harish Naidu about building self-confidence, handling criticism and connecting to the Sai within all of us. SSE students also participated in various service activities including making 145 dog toys with used T-shirts to be given to local dog shelters. They also put together 95 care packages for residents of local shelters.

In addition to these meaningful activities, attendees also enjoyed physical activities such ziplining, boating and archery with their families every day. Evenings were filled with fun socials and games that fostered friendships and bonding.

Natasha N Ghanshani, one of the youth leaders for the YA workshop titled “Who Am I” summed up her transformative experience stating that “Knowing who we are requires us to peel the onion. Oftentimes we start by understanding who we are not, which requires awareness. To become aware we need to learn to listen to ourselves which we achieve through meditation and silence.”

Dr. Shaili Singh who led the Women’s Wing discussionSelf-confidence = SAI-confidence” reflected that “Preparing to lead this workshop was like a sadhana in itself. One cannot teach what one doesn't actually practice or understand. So preparing for this workshop helped me to remember that Swami is not "with" me, but "in" me. It really made me UNDERSTAND the saying "Why fear when I am here?" I am so grateful to Swami for this opportunity.”

Everyone who attended the retreat, especially the SSE students, expressed how quickly time went by in activities as they learnt, collaborated and experienced spiritual and mental growth. They expressed their joy and happiness as they excitedly discussed looking forward to returning the following year. A special mention and thank you goes to the many volunteers who put in countless hours in flawlessly planning and executing the retreat including arranging transportation, food, and making sure audio/video logistics functioned perfectly during the retreat.