Volunteers

Summer Camp 2016

That’s right, it’s almost our favorite time of year again – time for Summer Camp!!!
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Camp Laurel’s Summer Camp is a unique program that focuses on traditional outdoor education programming while catering to the fragile physical and mental health of children and youth living with HIV/AIDS. This program exposes our low-income at-risk campers to experiences they would otherwise never encounter, such as working with farm animals, camping outdoors, and collaboratively living with groups of their peers. Our carefully designed Summer Camp also helps increase each child’s self-esteem by challenging their perceived capabilities and empowering them through the development of important life skills (communication, team work, resiliency, creativity, etc).
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This year we’re excited to be returning to the fabulous Jameson Ranch Camp to offer our campers uniquely designed an outdoor education Summer Camp program. That means the summer will be filled with even more of the amazing programs including horseback riding, rock climbing (on real rocks!), mountain biking, and so much more!
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Of course, even more than the activities and campsite, what makes our camps truly magical is our awesome crew of camp counselors who bring the program to life. So help us make this summer one to remember for the kids by joining the Summer Camp team today! For more information about what it means to be a volunteer with The Laurel Foundation, please visit our volunteer page or email our Director of Volunteers, Lauren Franklin.
Margot AndersonSummer Camp 2016
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2016 Volunteer of the Year!

The Laurel Foundation is extremely fortunate to have the support of an outstanding volunteer base, who sacrifice their own personal time and resources to give back to children, youth and families affected by HIV/AIDS. It is only through this amazing group of selfless individuals that we are able to continue to provide free educational and support programs for the at-risk families we serve! It takes a very special kind of person to devote their vacation days, or take time off school, to volunteer, and today we want to take a moment to recognize one volunteer that has gone above and beyond even that high criteria.

Due to her incredible drive and dedication to supporting the families we serve, The Laurel Foundation is delighted to announce that our 2016 Volunteer of the Year is the one and only TATOR TOT!

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To find out more about Tater Tot’s experience volunteering with The Laurel Foundation, we started by asking how she got involved in the first place.

I first found out about Camp Laurel through my friend, Laura (Cheese). We were grabbing food after work one day and I mentioned that I was trying to find ways to get involved in the community. Hearing that, Laura said that I had to give volunteering at Camp Laurel a try because I’d be a perfect fit for the program.   Although I had never worked at a camp before, I knew that I liked working with kids from my experience as a classroom aid and working at a family family back in WA. The way that she spoke about Camp Laurel and the community it creates definitely got me interested, so I decided to apply. 

I’m so glad it all worked out, because my phone interview to join my first camp was rough! Right before I was scheduled to call the office, my car broke down, leaving me stranded in the Santa Monica Library parking lot. I had to answer interview questions while muffling the sound of traffic and dodging people asking for donations! 

Fortunately, despite her rough first call, Tater Tot showed to be a natural fit for our camp family and has been volunteering with us ever since. Not only is TaterTot an incredible asset to camp, she has also been an unbelievable support at our events throughout the year and at the office. No matter if its a project large or small, she never hesitates to step up and help out!
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Nothings prepares you of the amazing community that makes up the Camp Laurel family.

I remember at my first camp training they pulled me and the other new counselors aside right when the day started. When we walked in to join the rest of the staff, everyone started singing the “we love you new counselors” song, and I was blown away. I thought, “what the heck have I just gotten myself into?!”

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Since she joined The Laurel Foundation’s team in 2013, TaterTot has been a steady fixture at both camp and The Laurel Foundation’s year-round events. In fact, Tater Tot hasn’t missed a camp since she started volunteering at Camp Laurel!

In particular, I love the evening programs at Camp Laurel because you never know what you’re going to get with them! Anytime you run a big all-camp activity, you can be sure that something changes from what you had planned and that you’re going to have to be flexible and adjust. Thats one of the great things about volunteering at camp. I think, that you have to learn to let it go and just live in the moment. 
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We asked Tater Tot why coming back to Camp Laurel every year was so important to her, and her answer really touched our hearts:

I keep coming back to Camp Laurel because its so rewarding to get to know the campers through the different programs. As you keep coming back, campers begin to recognize you and you become a part of their lives. And every camp you get to know them a little better as well, which really gets you invested in these kids and their development as individuals. Its almost like they become a part of your extended family and every time you reconnect at camp is like a reunion.

My favorite part of camp is the unscheduled time you get with your campers in the cabins. Even though these aren’t the times when we’re doing all the fun camp programming, this is when you really get to know the kids you’re working with. When its just your cabin hanging out, they let you see their silly sides and who they are as individuals. This is when you really get to see them grow.

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TaterTot, the positivity, compassion, and dedication you bring to everything you do is an inspiration to witness. Thanks for being the amazing person you are! We’re so lucky to have you on The Laurel Foundation team!

Margot Anderson2016 Volunteer of the Year!
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Spring Family Camp


We are excited to announce that our 2016 Family Camp will be occurring May 6 – 8 (Friday – Sunday).  We have heard time and time again that the parents want a warmer camp (hence the date change) and a more “retreat-like” setting. Well … WE HEARD YOU! This Spring our Family Camp will be at a BRAND NEW SITE! Thats right, we will be hosting our first ever Family Camp program at the gorgeous Camp Stevens, located in the mountains of San Diego County.

We are incredibly excited for this brand new venture and know that you will be too. Our CEO, Margot  Anderson, explored the facilities of Camp Stevens late last year and took a ton of pictures, specifically to share with you. So prepare to get excited about this new site through a quick picture tour. Lets get going!

 

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One of the things that drew us to Camp Stevens immediately was its beautiful grounds and comfortable facilities.

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This beautiful retreat-like camp will be more comfortable for our parents.  The facilities will give the parents a more relaxed setting, one that will help facilitate the formation of important support groups.

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The dining room is not only AWESOME, but the food is too!  Organic farming on site will teach both the children and parents how the importance of good food choices can be healthy and taste GREAT!


We also fell in love with the cozy meeting rooms and indoor programming space!  The parents now can sit by a fire, sip on tea and coffee, and munch on popcorn while participating in important discussions facilitated by our volunteer social workers.

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The comfortable cabins didn’t hurt either!

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Plus, how neat would sleeping in a fully equipped yurt be?!

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We saw at Jameson Ranch Camp this summer how great organic, homegrown food can taste while you’re up at camp. Camp Stevens, as mentioned, grows a lot of the food we will be eating on site, and additionally offers cooking classes! Now we can all learn how to cook healthy food that tastes GREAT.

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Just like summer camp … we will pick fresh eggs for breakfast!

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Best part of all (in our opinion) is that Camp Stevens offers all these amazing amenities and STILL has all the fun camp activities that we know and love here at Camp Laurel.

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Swimming Pool

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We could not be more delighted with this campsite and wish that we were at camp already so we can experience it all in person! Spring Family Camp is definitely going to be a program to remember – we hope to see you all there! So save the date and please join us May 6 – 8 for Spring Family Camp 2016!


Check out our video of Spring Camp and other 2016 programs!

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Margot AndersonSpring Family Camp
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2016 Camp Laurel News!

As you have probably already noticed, this has been a big year of growth and change for The Laurel Foundation. Our goal as an organization for 2016 is to take in the feedback we’ve heard from our families, Board of Directors and volunteers to improve our programs and make them even more impactful for the children we serve. Through post-camp surveys, informal conversations, and official focus groups, we have heard a LOT of amazing feedback thats given us great insight into areas that we can grow and improve for years to come. We can’t thank you enough for the insights you’ve all shared with us- its only thanks to your feedback that we can continue to improve as an organization!

So whats in store for The Laurel Foundation in 2016?
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2016 Family Camp

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We’re going to be kicking this year off with a big shift in our Family Camp programming. For the past couple of years, the biggest feedback we’ve received by our families and volunteers working with our adult campers, is that Camp Laurel really challenges our parents to step outside of their comfort zones through both the programming,  accommodations and weather. While we believe strongly in providing opportunities for our campers, both adults and children, to expand self-perceived capacities,  we feel that providing a space that can better accommodate our adult campers physical needs would allow them and the children to be more at ease and provide a more empowering environment overall.

With that feedback in mind, we will be shifting our Family Camp program to the spring and will be using a brand new site that provides a more retreat-like atmosphere for our adult campers, while still providing the camp programming we all know and love! The exact dates for Family Camp are in the process of being confirmed, but we know that it will fall in late April or mid May. Keep your eyes peeled for pictures of our brand new (gorgeous) campsite and a video site tour in mid-December.


Day Events

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Building a year-round community within the families we serve continues to be one of our main goals. To better support this goal, we plan on offering more day programs for the children and youth living in both the Los Angeles and San Diego areas in between our Camp Laurel programs.

This past year we were able to partner with AIDS Healthcare Foundation to provide an arts empowerment event for the girls aged 10-14.  Additionally this summer we provided our families with paddle boarding lessons at our Beach Day event and partnered with Positive Adventures for a day of family games and team building. We heard great things from our families about the effect of these one-day programs and they have made it clear that they want to see more of the same going forward.    

In 2016 we aim to expand our day events and continue to offer our families a chance to reconnect and grow together throughout the year. Be on the lookout for awesome events in your area!


CIT Retreat

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We love our CITs! The CIT program is without a doubt one of the most impactful leadership development opportunities we offer at The Laurel Foundation, and we want to help build it up even further! This year we plan on giving our new and returning CITs a special weekend retreat where they can come together as a unit and develop their leadership, communication, conflict resolution, and team building skills before working directly with the youth at Summer Camp as Counselors in Training.

More details about this weekend retreat are forthcoming. We could not be more excited for this one!


Summer Camp

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Our families can’t stop talking about how much our campers enjoyed Summer Camp this year! All the new activities- horseback riding, zip line, mountain boarding, and rocking climbing just to name a few- made for an incredibly fun and empowering program for the kids. Due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback we’ve received, we plan on continuing the outdoor education focused Summer Camp program we kicked off this past year in conjunction with Jameson Ranch Camp.

With one camp at this new site under our belt, we have a clear idea of which areas we can improve upon, build up, and make even more special the next time around! A major thanks to all our Summer Camp counselors who gave us fantastic suggestions on how we can take this camp to the next level! Summer Camp dates will be in August.


With all these programs in store, 2016 is definitely going to be a year to remember! On top of the programs listed above, we will of course be having all the traditional events The Laurel Foundation hosts each year – Holiday Party, Golf Tournament, and Wine Tasting Benefit. There’s a possibility of even MORE events and programs getting tacked onto our 2016 calendar as well, so give us YOUR feedback on what you would like to see happen with The Laurel Foundation this next year!

Please contact us anytime at (626) 683-0800 or LFranklin@Laurel-Foundation.org if you have any questions or comments about our upcoming 2016 programs.

Margot Anderson2016 Camp Laurel News!
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Why I’m A Camp Laurel Counselor

Working as a camp counselor has made me who I am today. Through volunteering at programs like Camp Laurel, I have gained confidence, found self-acceptance, and secured a happiness deep within myself that I would not have found otherwise. Although everyone has their own journey that brings them to camp, I wanted to share my personal story with you here.

It was on a dark and stormy day when I stumbled across Camp Laurel. Ok, so maybe not dark and stormy, but it was a memorable day in 2014 for sure! I was sittin’ on my fencepost, chewin my bubble gum (chew, chew, chew chew), playin with my yo yo (wee-oo wee-oh), when along came Caaaaaammmp Laurel. (Ah, couldn’t resist adding in a camp song!) Having a family member who passed away from AIDS, I felt an immediate personal connection to the non-profit and wanted more than anything to get involved.

I made it my mission as a newly adopted member of the Camp Laurel family to peal bananas, raise the roof, pop the corn, mash potatoes, and put a smile on all of my campers faces. I wanted to help them forget whatever troubles they may be grappling with, even if just for a while. I gave these kids a friend, someone judgement free who too wasted all of mom’s money on endless amounts of bazooka zooka bubble gum. But more importantly, I gave these kids someone who cared about them, because I know from personal experience how important having that caring person in your life can be.

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For the majority of my young adult life my sexuality was a secret weighing heavily on my heart. Fear of losing friends, fear of disappointing parents, and fear of society were major factors that kept me from accepting this part of myself. With time this secret broke my spirits and the shame I felt for being gay made me incredibly unhappy.

Whenever I was upset growing up my mom would say “Laugh. It makes you feel good. And if you can make someone else laugh, that makes you feel even better. Go make someone laugh today.” It only took me what, 18 years? but I’d finally decided to heed her advice. Make someone laugh…

I thought back to the last time I had tons of fun and made some awesome folks laugh and immediately thought of camp.

About eight-some odd years ago I went to camp as a camper and the memories that experience gave me are some of the happiest memories I have to this day. At camp I got to develop my communication skills with others. I got to try new things I’d never done before like canoeing, horse-back riding, and hiking across large expanses of uneven terrain carrying half my body weight in a backpack on my back (fun stuff, really, that last one in particular). But what I enjoyed most about my experience as a camper was that I was able to make life-long friends, have fun, and let my worries fly out the window.

Seriously, my biggest worry as a camper was the bug issue. I hated bugs then, and I’m not PARTICULARLY fond of them now. But how awesome is it that I can say with complete honesty that THAT was my biggest worry!

So several years ago I decided to go back to camp, only this time I was going back as a counselor. Fortunately for me, my experiences as a counselor did not disappoint.

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Volunteering at programs like Camp Laurel not only gave me a chance to get involved, but also offered me a judgement free environment where I could once again forget about the worries in my own life and just make a child laugh. In time I found myself tapping into these parts of myself that had been dormant for so long, waiting to break free. Acting silly, dressing in crazy costumes, singing and dancing to crazy songs; I felt happy and it felt amazing. The gratification I received over the years in return for all the silliness and hard work was far more than I’d expected. There’s no greater feeling in the world than watching a kid smile, and thinking “wow, I played a part in that.”

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As someone who felt different and isolated in my younger years, I found it fascinating coming back as a counselor  to see what diverse group camp brings together! The kids and many of my fellow counselors were a unique and awesome bunch from all walks across the globe, but at camp none of our differences mattered. What mattered at the end of the day wasn’t what made you different, it was what brought you together.

I made life long friends as a counselor, and without even realizing it, BOOM! (chicka boom), I’d grown into a more confident individual.

I’ve reached a place now where I’ve found confidence, self-acceptance, and happiness deep within myself and I know I couldn’t have done it without the self-esteem and confidence boost working as a camp counselor has given me. Laughter healed me just like my mom said it would and now, 5 years later, I am still bo diddly boppin’ back to my pizza shop and volunteering at summer camps across California, healing others, one laugh at a time.

-Dimples (aka Alishia)

 

Margot AndersonWhy I’m A Camp Laurel Counselor
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Confessions of a New Counselor

Camp Laurel was such an amazing and unforgettable experience. I first stumbled upon the Laurel Foundation through an email from my college. I read the short synopsis of what they do for children affected by HIV/AIDS and when I looked more into it, I found the camp counselor position to be very interesting and something I knew I would love to do.

ta9mrConfessions of a New Counselor
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What Camp Laurel Means To Me

The Laurel Foundation became part of my life when I was 7 years old. My mom went to North County Health Services and they mentioned it to her as a way for me to be around other kids that were also affected by HIV/AIDS. My sister and I had an understanding that our mom was sick, but we didn’t really know exactly what it was.

ta9mrWhat Camp Laurel Means To Me
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NATIONAL VOLUNTEER WEEK

I recently visited with one of our campers to introduce her to her new mentor through our LEAF Mentorship Program. As we all chatted I asked her if she had received her camp photo from Winter Family Camp. She said, “Oh yeah, it’s already up on my wall. You wanna see?” Her face lit up as she stood up to show us to her room. When we walked in the door I could hardly believe that this young teenager (you know how teens can sometimes be “too cool for school”) had her entire wall above her bed covered with years of pictures and memorabilia from Camp Laurel.
In that moment I couldn’t help but think of you; our amazing volunteers. You have made such an impact and become a source of joy and hope to so many of our families in a way that you couldn’t possibly know. You are the faces on their walls encouraging them and reminding them that someone believes in them. You are the memories in their hearts reminding them to laugh and try new things and to be adventurous. You are a part of them and a part of us.

The great men and women of our time were not necessarily the wealthiest or the most charismatic or even the most popular. They were people that possessed a generosity of spirit and a hopeful determination to see our world grow in love and service to others. Our volunteers are beautiful reflections of these legendary souls and we are undone with gratefulness for your commitment to The Laurel Foundation.

Next week is National Volunteer Week. We wish that there was something that we could give to each of you to show our gratitude, but our hands our empty. Our hearts however, are full of love and appreciation for you. You make a difference; you change lives.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts

Cheria Young

Director of Volunteers

Photo by Marcella Atallah

ta9mrNATIONAL VOLUNTEER WEEK
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