The Laurel Foundation proudly presents our 2021 Volunteer of the Year:
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!
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.
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
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!
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!
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!
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!
The Laurel Foundation would like to extend a huge congratulations and thank you to our 2018 Volunteer of the year:
Mako began volunteering at The Laurel Foundation in 2016. Since then, he has shown the utmost dedication to The Laurel Foundation programs, mission, and campers who we serve. Over the past couple of years Mako has given a record number of hours to The Laurel Foundation programs. He truly is a volunteer we can always count on to help in any way he can! Not only has Mako volunteered at our resident camp programs, but also has been to several fundraisers and day events that help support our campers and raise funding for our programs.
When asked about his volunteer experience, Mako said: “Volunteering with camp is one of the best impulse decisions Ive ever made!. Camp lets you help youth grow while having the wacky, fun kind of camp experience you probably wished you had when you were a kid.”
Thank you Mako for the dedication you show to The Laurel Foundation programs, campers, and families. We are truly lucky to have you as volunteer and a member of the Camp Laurel family!
Our second summer camp session brought together over 40 trans and GNC youth for 5 days of community building, drama classes, Zumba, as well as the beloved traditional camp activates like ropes courses, swimming, kayaking and archery. Our camp theme “Free to Be” emphasized the mission of creating a gender affirming, safe space within the beautiful YMCA of Santa Monica camp site, right on the shore of Big Bear Lake. Our campers took full advantage of the proximity to the lake starting their mornings with a Polar Plunge – a 7am dip in the lake! Camp not only aimed to create a supportive environment for our youth, but to support the personal growth of each camper as leaders and advocates for themselves and their community and providing them with trans and GNC mentors.
Among our most popular programs were the elective workshops campers were able to participate in during their Camper’s Choice periods. Campers had the opportunity to engage in critical thought and conversations during these elective workshops that provided the space to discuss topics like “Know Your Rights,” in which campers learned about their rights in schools, communities, and extra-curricular activities. Our youth also explored their intersecting identities in a session called “I’m trans and…” The session helped campers reflect on how different parts of their identities interact with one another and how those affect how they interact with the world.
Our campers were in for an extra special surprise when three M.A.C. Cosmetics Senior Artists joined us and provided seminar-style make-up lessons and makeovers. Campers had the opportunity to explore their personal style with one-on-one support from industry professionals! Many of the campers had a unique look in mind which they directed the artists in achieving. Others preferred to let the artists get creative and choose their looks. At the end of the day, camp looked more like an editorial shoot than a summer camp and our campers got to go home goodie bags full of M.A.C. products!
During their time in the lake, campers had the option to kayak, paddle board, go on a pedal boat with a friend, and most excitingly, the Hot Dog! Campers were pulled by a motorboat on a jumbo hot dog across the lake – a thrilling and challenging activity that quickly became a camp favorite! The opportunity to rotate through activities while at the lake allowed for campers to have as much fun or get as much quiet as they needed to. Many campers would choose to take a paddle board and relax in the middle of the lake while others spent the entire period rotating through the hot dog. As fun as the lake activities were they also provided an opportunity for campers to bond with one another, work as a team, and challenge themselves!
The week ended on a high note at our final campfire, where each cabin group presented a skit to the community. The campers got to share humorous insight to their individual cabin cultures and their unique sense humor. A few campers chose to perform solo acts in addition to participating in their cabin’s skit. The individual performances allowed for campers to share their powerful perspectives and voice their individuality. With a hug train, the evening came to an end and campers left the night feeling the endless support of their camp community.