Margot Anderson

Camp Mulberry – Summer 2021

Camp Mulberry, already unique in itself, was especially remarkable this year because it was the very first year we used the name: Camp Mulberry! For 4 years, this camp was known as “Camp Laurel Session 2” while we searched for a name that captured the essence of this very special camp. Camp Mulberry was named after the mulberry tree, which is unique in that it is gender fluid. The new Camp Mulberry name reflects the love, spirit, and PRIDE of who this camp represents.

This summer, we traveled to a new camp site, Pathfinder Ranch, with all new activities for them to explore. Upon arrival, campers could see the horses, chickens, and alpacas waiting to greet them along with all our volunteers! After COVID tests and check-in, cabin groups got to unpack, unwind, and meet their cabin mates. With social distancing in mind, our first evening program brought all the cabins together for LGBTQIA+ & Disney Trivia! Campers loved testing their own knowledge and found that maybe when they didn’t have the answer, a teammate did! It was the perfect way to develop a sense of unity among the cabins.

Another special factor about this particular camp: this was the first time we welcomed campers ages 6-9 years old which was a huge step into independence for these campers! For its first 4 years, Camp Mulberry was reserved for transgender/gender diverse youth ages 10-17, and this year, our older campers got to model the pride and culture of our camp for the new youngsters!

Creating and keeping alive camp traditions was a huge part of what really brought us all together this year. Thanks to Lovebug, one of our Head Counselors, we were able to do our traditional flag ceremony where we raise a pride flag to signal the start of camp and mark us as a community united in pride. Lovebug made it even more incredible this year by revealing a custom flag that had bright, beautiful rainbow pride colors AND our new Camp Mulberry logo! It was truly powerful moment where we really let campers know they were safe and accepted.

Our volunteers did an amazing job creating a space where campers felt empowered and safe to get out of their comfort zones. Connecting and meeting new friends needed more support this year (since we had spent a year in isolation during the pandemic) and volunteers did a great job helping campers navigate a new “normal”. Additionally, the new campsite was home to creatures and animals not seen at camp before, which made it a space where campers could explore and share new experiences with their cabin mates. Campers got to safely hold and learn about turtles and snakes and hang with goats, alpacas, chickens, pigs, and horses! Luckily, Pathfinder Ranch staff were well trained and knew how to help put everyone at ease as they interacted with the animals. Our campers are so awesome for being open to new experiences!

This summer, we introduced our beloved C.I.T. (Counselors in Training) program (at Camp Laurel) to campers at Camp Mulberry so that they could dive deeper into leadership, advocacy, and communication within camp and in their lives outside of camp. Our campers had great discussions and even got some preparation for interviews and applications. Despite never seeing this program in the past, our seniors stepped up to the plate and even lead our final campfire and talent show.

Campers also enjoyed traditional camp activities such as arts & crafts, archery, high ropes, and pool time. Arts & crafts proved to be a favorite this year as many friendships were solidified with friendship bracelets! These bracelets were proof that our campers were able to develop meaningful connections that will last them a lifetime.

Below are just a few of the wonderful emails we have received from camper parents.

“She reported that she found her people – she has an increased confidence and pride – over all a great experience she hasn’t stopped talking about it and would like to connect with friends she met at camp.” Camper Parent

“My camper shines after camp. It really gives them such a boost of happiness and confidence.” Camper Parent

“My child had the opportunity to be independent, make new friends due to an environment conducive to getting to know their cabin mates well, chance to try participate in activities they would normally avoid (eg, horseback riding, swimming in lakes), increased confidence and increased interest in crafting and drawing.” Camper Parent

Margot AndersonCamp Mulberry – Summer 2021
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Camp Laurel – Summer 2021

Camp Laurel was a huge success this summer even during a pandemic. We knew how important it would be to have this camp for the kids so that they could reconnect and make new friends. After spending over a year at home in isolation, we knew leaving home and their families would be difficult, but our campers took that leap of faith knowing camp is a second home and a safe space.

This year’s theme is P.R.E.S.S. Play, which was all about unpausing our lives, learning from the past year and finding ways to get back to our ‘normal’ lives. Our goal was for campers to learn how to PERSIST and reach any goal they set, RISE above any hardship, EXPRESS their true and authentic selves, gain the STRENGTH to speak up for themselves and out about the things they care for, and the SPIRIT to make a difference in the world.

The first day, campers were dropped off in a very organized and safe manner. Each one was given a COVID test before joining their cabin AKA their “safety bubble” for the week to ensure everyone would leave camp healthy and would not put anyone at home at-risk. Once with their cabins, campers got to unpack, meet their cabin mates and create a cabin name. Although it was important to keep masks on and stay in our bubbles, all cabins were still able to be together (socially distanced) during meals and evening programs which was so valuable for the sense of community. A big shout-out to our counselors for keeping campers safe and reminding them the importance of the masks and bubbles!

The first evening program was our fabulous Runway Show where cabins worked as a unit to create an outfit for their counselors out of recycled materials. Campers were able to get so creative with the supplies, EXPRESS themselves and even wrote stories to share with other cabins that brought their designs to life! This was a great ice breaker program that encouraged campers to speak in front of the group and EXPRESS themselves through their costume!

The next morning, cabins were off to enjoy activities like archery, low ropes, arts & crafts, sports, water fun, and more! These programs invited campers to step out of their comfort zones, RISE to try new things, step up as leaders, and get creative. Water fun was especially fun since we were up in the mountains and had the sun beating down on us. One of our counselors, Shout Out, re-created her incredible dunk tank for campers and counselors to give trivia a SPLASH! This allowed campers to have fun in a safe space with their cabin. Another great activity was gaga ball which was also made possible by Shout Out and her cabin, THANK YOU EXPLORERS! Each program encouraged campers to explore a new aspect of themselves to build onto. Low ropes was all about trusting oneself, trusting another person, and encouraging others. Arts & crafts was where campers could EXPRESS themselves, be that through a self-portrait, tie- dye shirt, or friendship bracelets. Archery, reminded campers how important practice is and PERSISTING through challenges in order to reach a goal.

If you ask our younger campers what they want to be when they get older, many will say: a C.I.T. (Counselor In Training) which is a long-standing tradition for senior campers of classes focused on enhancing valuable life, leadership, and other skills. The program looked different this year, but we wanted to ensure our seniors got a glimpse into it so that they do not miss out on the experience. Spicy, a former camper and C.I.T. herself, lead the classes this year and really gave our seniors an unforgettable experience! One of the classes helped prep our campers for various interviews and applications which they can take with them when they want to get jobs or apply for schools. The whole week prepared them to step up as leaders for our Final Campfire and be our MCs which was great for our younger campers to see the older ones stepping out of their comfort zones!

We are so proud of our summer camp this year. With the help of our volunteers, staff, donors Board of Directors and our entire Camp family, we were able to provide an emotionally and physically safe space, 100% COVID free for each everyone! Campers went home with a sense of community, independence, and feeling more confident in their abilities. Camp Laurel built back the community that so desperately needed to connect, we are truly grateful for all the support in making summer Camp happen this year. THANK YOU!

Here are just a few of the wonderful letters we have received from camper parents.

“Both girls love the experience and enjoy knowing new people. As well as being exposed to new and wild adventures.” Camper Parent

“Both my campers love all what camp had to offer, they both made new friends and got to experience a new environment.” Camper Parent

“My camper has been able to find activities they did at camp to entertain themselves around the house. She also has not talked about a traumatic event that took place about a month before camp.” Camper Parent

Margot AndersonCamp Laurel – Summer 2021
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2021 Volunteer of the Year!

The Laurel Foundation proudly presents our 2021 Volunteer of the Year:

RENEGADE!

The Laurel Foundation would like to extend a huge CONGRATULATIONS AND THANK YOU to our 2021 Volunteer Of The Year – RENEGADE! We first met Renegade in 2017 when we partnered with a student run organization at UCLA known as the Pediatrics AIDS Coalition (PAC). He brought such positivity and energy to every event he attended and the kids were drawn to his friendly nature. Renegade is always ready to lend a helping hand to campers and fellow volunteers to ensure everyone feels included!

Part of our goal is to ensure the professional and personal growth of campers and our volunteers. Renegade applied to intern with us despite a busy schedule at school and worked over 10 hours a week with us. Whether it was helping plan events, recruit new campers and volunteers, help raise money for events, Renegade was always ready and eager to step up and help out! We asked Renegade to share about his journey with us: “My experiences with Camp Laurel have taught me so many lessons that it is hard to keep track. Though in a time when it’s easy to feel disconnected from others, Camp has shown me the value behind breaking down my boundaries and embracing my sillier side to build trust and rapport with those around me. Never have I felt more like myself then when I’m surrounded by our Camp community, and I couldn’t be more grateful for such a feeling.”

“Given all The Laurel Foundation has provided me, including the bonds formed with campers, volunteers, and staff, I always feel more than eager to return to each camp!”

Thank you Renegade for the endless love and bright spirit you bring to every event you attend. We are thrilled to have Renegade return to his second camp this year as a Head Counselor, a role dedicated to counselors that support and help lead all counselors to ensure a great camp experience! We greatly appreciate your commitment to serving all of our at-risk youth and their families! Congratulations Renegade!

Margot Anderson2021 Volunteer of the Year!
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GRATITUDE: A Camp Laurel Cookbook

We are so excited to announce the publication of Gratitude: A Camp Laurel Cookbook. The cookbook is a fundraiser, with special family recipes submitted by our Camp Laurel supporters. We hope you will enjoy this very special book. Perfect gift for the holidays! To arrive before Christmas you must order before December 8, 2020.

Purchase

Margot AndersonGRATITUDE: A Camp Laurel Cookbook
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Launch Your Dreams!

Continuing our mission has never been so crucial. Our virtual programs have served as a vital tool to keep our campers and volunteers connected during this time of social distancing.

Launch Your Dreams was the first of our virtual day programs and guided campers on a journey of how to make their dreams come true. Campers created vision boards to help them picture their ideas and plan the steps they can take to make them a reality. Many campers came up with incredible ideas to support people in situations that our campers have faced or been affected by.  One camper that has struggled with mental health designed a plan for writing/journaling kits that include pens, stickers, and positive affirmations and writing prompts for those struggling with mental health.

 Athletics holds a special place in the heart of one of our campers. His dream is to open a gym for the best athletes from all over to come and train at.

Stray cats have found their way into the dreams of another one of our campers. His dream is to start a Foundation to find loving homes for stray cats, which he has already started in his own community!

With the support and encouragement of our volunteers, campers left the program feeling empowered and capable of making these dreams come true!

Ready to inspire the next generation? Join us for our next virtual program and support our campers! Volunteers must be 18 years old and pass our application and interview process.

Looking to participate: Email Andrea: ARodriguez@Laurel-Foundation.org

Looking to volunteer: Email Lisa: LHardiman@Laurel-Foundation.org

Margot AndersonLaunch Your Dreams!
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A Beacon of Light

Summer Camp this year was virtual, and it was a HUGE success. We brought together our transgender/gender diverse campers and campers affected by HIV/AIDS from 10 different states for an experience that kept the true spirit of camp alive! When we first learned of in-person events being cancelled, we had to pull our entire team together to help us create a plan to keep serving our children, youth, and families. We knew that camp was often the only safe place for many of our campers; they needed each other, and they needed camp. So, with the help of our board of directors, volunteers, donors, staff and community members and the reminder that camp is centered from the heart, we began planning a virtual experience unlike any other!

The first step in making this camp experience possible was getting camp supplies and goodies to our campers. Thanks to our incredible donors and community, we were able to gather t-shirts, arts & crafts supplies, ingredients for cooking, and much more into Camp Bags to send to our campers! One of the parents mentioned how “seeing the excitement and light in their child’s eyes was everything” upon receiving the camp supplies. We knew more than ever that Camp Laurel was vital for our campers’ mental health.

We searched for facilitators from around the country to help create a virtual experience that would support our camper’s mental health, build support groups, teach the youth vital coping skills and most importantly that was a fun camp they would never forget. Campers were able to participate in our annual talent shows where they were able to express themselves in a safe space. This talent show is part of the camp traditions we do every year to build their confidence and allow them to feel safe performing and speaking in front of large groups. Gradually campers became more and more comfortable with themselves and each other so that they could build important peer connections and talk to one another about the adversities they face. It wasn’t long before they began to encourage each other to share their talents making the space inclusive, full of love, and safe for each camper to be themselves.

Another camp tradition that was kept alive in the virtual platform was doing make-up with professional experts at M.A.C.! This year our M.A.C. volunteers, we challenged our campers to do their own make-up while giving them tips and helpful advice. Seeing the final results, we could see the confidence had grown in our campers! In another program, our youth discussed the stigma and prejudices around being transgender with the support of volunteer mental health professionals. Not only were they able to express concerns and speak out about their own truths, but they also discussed positive ways to advocate for themselves and their community.

Cooking has always been a fun and enjoyable activity at camp, and we made it happen for virtual camp as well! Learning a new and healthy recipe allowed campers to gain independence, but they were also able to discuss healthy life-style choices and how it affects mental and physical health.

Our yoga session taught campers new yoga poses and stretches to stay active and healthy at home. We even had an expert graphic designer teach them how to draw caricatures and introduce them to a new kind of career path they can consider when they grow up.

All of these programs helped make this year’s summer camp a world of pure imagination where campers could come as they are, no filter necessary, support each other, grow and connect.

This summer, Camp Laurel continued its mission to empower youth, through a new virtual space where campers logged off camp everyday feeling inspired and believing that they had the power to thrive. We saw campers’ bravely step outside of their comfort zones and shine with the encouragement and love of their peers and their counselors. Camp may have been different this year, but it did not stop the Camp Laurel spirit, tradition, or mission from living on! This was definitely a summer camp for the books, and we could not have done it without the support and help of our volunteers, board of directors, donors, and staff. Thank you ALL for helping empower children, youth and families affected by HIV/AIDS and transgender/gender diverse youth!

Margot AndersonA Beacon of Light
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Amazon Smile and Camp Laurel

The holidays are coming! Please select Camp Laurel Foundation on for your AmazonSmile charity. With each purchase you make a percentage will be donated by Amazon to our organization!

Margot AndersonAmazon Smile and Camp Laurel
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2020 Volunteer of the Year!

The Laurel Foundation

would like to extend a huge congratulations and

thank you to our 2020 Volunteer of the year:

RAINBOW!

Rainbow began volunteering at The Laurel Foundation in 2019 and makes it a point to be at as many of our events as she can. Not only does she set an excellent example for our campers, but always asks fellow volunteers how she can help them. Rainbow will be joining us for her first Winter Family Camp this February!

When asked why she volunteers with The Laurel Foundation, Rainbow responded: “I volunteer because I firmly believe in its Mission Statement and to give back to the kids, empowering them to accept themselves just as they are.”

We also asked Rainbow about her favorite memory from camp: “My favorite memory of camp involved the Talent Show. When we were asking who wanted to participate, one of the campers, who initially said she didn’t want to perform, changed their mind and decided to perform after receiving encouragement from her counselors and fellow campers. To see a camper having the courage to do something they didn’t think they could do, is a wonderful sight to behold.”

Thank you Rainbow for the love and commitment you show to the kids, families, and organization. We are so lucky to have you as a member of the Camp Laurel family!

Margot Anderson2020 Volunteer of the Year!
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Camp Laurel Welcomes Brody Ray!

This past summer camp, Camp Laurel was surprised with a visit from America’s Got Talent – Brody Ray.  Here is a song that he sang to our campers at this past weeks transgender/gender diverse camp. Thank you Brody for your love and inspiration.  You are an angel!  We ❤️ you!
 

Margot AndersonCamp Laurel Welcomes Brody Ray!
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Winter Family Camp 2018

 

Winter Family Camp 2018 took us back to Camp Stevens in Julian, California. The camp was led by past camper (now counselor) “Button” who came back to serve as our Program Director for her second winter camp in a row. Button thoughtfully crafted this camp’s theme, “Ohana”,  emphasizing the importance of family, both given and chosen, during the four day camp. “Ohana” celebrated the beauty of Native Hawaiian and Polynesian culture’s love of families. Winter camp was not only fun, but provided campers so many growth opportunities throughout the weekend, whether it was trying something new for the first time, making new friends, or gaining independence through choosing their own free choice activities.

On the first day of camp, families were welcomed with a delicious homemade pizza lunch, made from the ingredients of Camp Steven’s garden. Families then went off to their cabin groups to unpack and get to know each other. Many of our younger campers experienced their first night “away” from their parents – their first step into independence. Many of our older campers reconnected with old friends and helped guide other campers through their first day. Our parents were excited to have a break from their kids and enjoyed having  time to connect. Connections and a sense of support is a valuable outcome of our parent programming at family camp. Thank you counselors for watching the kids so the parents can have this valuable time to connect with one another!  After dinner, campers gathered in front of the dining hall for our opening program; A Night Under the Stars. Campers spent the night finding constellations through a telescope, mapping constellations with shadow boxes, and learning the history of constellations and greek mythology. Our CIT’s exercised their leadership skills through acting out traditional star stories, allowing younger campers to step outside of their comfort zone and explore their acting skills. Campers also had a lot of fun preparing their camp counselors for a trek into space, dressing them up in the most appropriate space clothing and giving them tips on their moonwalks.

The next morning campers enjoyed a morning full of family time. Families were able to leave their cabin groups to sit with their families and start their days together. After breakfast, first period was family hour. Family hour was a new favorite addition to camp program allowing families to spend quality time together and reconnect away from their normal routines of life down the mountain. Campers were able to rotate around activities like kite flying, piñata making, rocket launching, and sports.

We were also joined by a few special visitors throughout the weekend who provided specialty programs that allowed campers time to develop coping skills, try new things, and work collaboratively through exploration. Ready came up as an arts and crafts facilitator and taught the campers how to make lava lamps. Penguin led yoga, a very welcomed hour of relaxation and mindfulness for all of our campers but especially our parents. Chef and Frenchie surprised our campers and taught them how to make toffee and marshmallows. The campers were excited to have an extra sweet treat that day but our parents were even more excited to try Chef’s specialty: cheesecake! The night ended with a classic evening program: Family Feud! In their cabin groups, campers had to work together to find the top answers to the surveys! Try as they may, no one was able to beat the Moms and Tots, who took home the win!

On the last day of program, campers woke up to find it was snowing! This was the first time many of our and volunteers had ever experienced snow. Camper spent the rest of the day enjoying all of their camp activities with a little extra chill! That night at final campfire we were very excited to give out two very special awards! Our Apollo Award went to long time camper, Morgan! This award was extra special because Morgan was able to receive it from her long time mentor, Giggles. The second award went to a first time camper but long time dad, Brandon! He received the parent award for his spirit at camp. Campers went home feeling the love from every member of their Camp Laurel family.

We also would like to give an extra special shout out to our camper, Johnny, who took 90% of the photographs at camp. We are excited that camp has led Johnny to discover a true talent and eye for photography. Thank you for capturing all those magical growth moments at camp, Johnny!

We are so glad you found your special talent and are so grateful for all the beautiful photos you took!

 

 

Margot AndersonWinter Family Camp 2018
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