Margot Anderson

2018 Volunteer of the Year!

The Laurel Foundation would like to extend a huge congratulations and thank you to our 2018 Volunteer of the year:

Mako! 

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!

Margot Anderson2018 Volunteer of the Year!
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Summer Session 2 Recap!

Hello Guys, Gals, and Non-Binary Pals,

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.

Until next year!

Margot AndersonSummer Session 2 Recap!
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Memories from Summer Camp Session 2 July 30- August 2, 2017

Thank you to everyone who helped to make this camp possible (donors, volunteers and staff).  Session 2 was AMAZING.  And we have the photos to prove it (more will be uploaded so check back in a day or so)!  See you next year!

 

Margot AndersonMemories from Summer Camp Session 2 July 30- August 2, 2017
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Memories from Summer Camp Session 1 June 17-June 24, 2017

 

Summer Camp Session 1 took us back to the beautiful Camp Gilboa, on Bluff Lake in Big Bear, CA where 80 campers affected by HIV/AIDS enjoyed seven days of fun. The week’s activities provided a fun way for campers to learn important life skills such as independence, communication and problem solving.  Program activities help to empower the youth and build strong bonds among peers, which will prove to become important support systems in years to come.

The program was led by long time Camp Laurel volunteer, Coach! Coach’s vision, creativity and passion helped shape the warm, welcoming feeling of camp.  As Camp Laurel celebrates its 25th year, Coach’s camp theme took us back through loved camp traditions and important moments in the history of Camp Laurel.

On Sunday, camp officially kicked off and the “Camp Time Traveler,” Shout Out, brought news from the first Camp Laurel session way back in 1992! Campers enjoyed a totally tubular day at camp with an 90’s twist. During Arts and Crafts campers had the opportunity tie dye t-shirts in keeping with the camp theme. The first full day of camp was full of excitement as campers became familiar with the campsite and their cabin mates. The night’s evening program, “Retro Robots”, challenged campers to dress one of their cabin counselors as a robot! Campers had a great time both outfitting their counselors and seeing the work of their fellow campers. The throwback theme of the day helped set the stage for the remainder of the week’s wacky, time traveler fun. Each night campers in their cabin groups would debrief the day’s events and reflect on how lessons learned could be applied to their daily lives.

On Monday, campers celebrated Camp Laurel’s Canada Camp! Maple syrup was a plenty in the dining and campers showed their Canada pride by making Camp Laurel-Canada flags during Arts and Crafts. Another fun addition to the day was a special visit from long time camp counselor, Celery! Celery led the mountain bike program, taking kids on a fun mountain ride adventure through out the day. That night we also honored another Camp Laurel tradition – Nootie Birds! The elusive Nootie Birds, native to Camp Laurel, came out for the night and shared a bit of their magic with the campers.

Another Camp Laurel tradition honored at camp was our Holiday Party! The kids spent the day reflecting on the spirit behind all the holidays we celebrate and came together as a community to honor these. Through out the day campers were encouraged to share gratitudes and show appreciation to one another. The evening program brought it all together through a 365 party, which allowed campers to experience a year’s worth of holidays within an hour. From Fourth of July Parades to Valentine’s card making, campers were able to share in traditions with friends they only see in the summer! The feel of the day was full of love and support as campers got into the true holiday spirit.

On Thursday, the campers enjoyed a day with a new cabin group! Cabins were paired into families and spent the day together bonding and having fun with their new surrogate family on this Family Camp themed day. Campers were able to enjoy all the camp activities like canoeing on the lake and hiking with their cabin families. Camper families also shared meals together allowing campers to further bond with each other! The day ended with a blast of energy as the younger campers enjoyed music and tasted marshmallows by the campfire and older campers danced the night away at the outdoor dance.

Finally, we arrived to Friday – our last day of programing! The Camp Time Traveler blasted us to present day where campers were able to enjoy their last day of program together. Spirits were high and were lifted even higher by the night’s delicious dessert! Our camp chef, Chef Brian, specializes in creating artisan cheesecakes and saved this delicious treat for the last night at camp! With bellies full of tastiness, campers moved over to the final campfire where campers presented their cabin skits, reflected on the week’s lessons, and shared their wishes for the future.
As camp came to a close, campers returned home empowered and joyful, equipped with the life skills to achieve anything in life they set their minds to.

See you next year, Session 1!

 


Margot AndersonMemories from Summer Camp Session 1 June 17-June 24, 2017
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2017 Volunteer of the Year!

The Laurel Foundation is extremely fortunate to have the support of an outstanding volunteer base, who give 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 2017 Volunteer of the Year is the one and only:

Juice Box!

Juice Box has become such an important part of the Camp Laurel family as she volunteers not only at camp but also as our Nonprofit Management Intern. Her dedication of time and energy to The Laurel Foundation’s mission, campers, and families is ahh-mazing!

At camp she can be found interacting with campers, appreciating volunteers, wow-ing everyone with her incredible flexibility and positive spirit. She is always ready to greet the campers and her fellow counselors with some positivity!

We asked Juice Box how she initially become involved with The Laurel Foundation:

“The Laurel Foundation had advertised within the Public Health Department at SDSU. My professor shared the opportunity with us and although I was not able to volunteer that semester, I ended up applying the next summer. ”  

We asked Juice Box what some of her favorite parts about volunteering with The Laurel Foundation so far:

“I love getting to see how much behind the scenes work in the office it takes to put on camp, but also have loved being brought in to the Camp Laurel family. It’s great seeing the kids at camp and working with the volunteers- it feels like one big happy family.”

Throughout her time in the office Juice Box can be found constantly asking: “What else can I do to help?” An invaluable and much appreciated phrase in the office!

Juice Box, we appreciate you for your time, dedication, and positive spirit you bring to The Laurel Foundation!

Thank you!

Margot Anderson2017 Volunteer of the Year!
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Former Camper Gives Thanks

My first camp was when I was eight years old and I am now twenty-two. I have been a part of something so special for the past fourteen years and although it is sometimes hard for me to open up and share my story, I want to encourage others with similar situations. Camp Laurel is for kids and their families who are affected with HIV. Having someone in my family born with this disease is what introduced

me to this camp world. At eight years old, I didn’t understand the meaning behind this camp. All I knew was that it was the coolest place to be! As I grew older, I began to realize why
we come to camp and how it changes the lives of people, for the better. Camp Laurel has become a safe place for children and teens to meet others who they can relate to and most importantly, gives them the opportunity (when they’re ready) to express themselves without any judgments. It’s a place to escape the stress, insecurities, the bullying, and all the problems from the outside world. It’s a place where we can all laugh, cry, love, reunite, and create memories. A place where we don’t discriminate against people with HIV, religion, sexual orientation, or gender but rather, view everyone as equal human beings. For many, it’s the only place they can actually be themselves and be surrounded by incredible people who open their arms, mind, and heart.

For me, camp has made such a huge impact and I am forever grateful for the life-long friends I have made throughout this whole experience. Since I turned eighteen, I have been returning to camp as a voldsc_5044-2unteer counselor and I see myself doing this for as long as I can. I hope to be a role model for these kids and educate and bring awareness so that we continue to expand what we call our Camp Family. Most of us are still discovering ourselves and my heart beats with happiness knowing that such an inspiring place like this exists for children, teens, parents, volunteers, and anyone who wants to be a part of something so extraordinary.

Someone recently asked me what I am passionate about. After letting that question sink in, I realized that we don’t always find passion in a hobby or a job but rather, it can also coexist in people. The thing I am most passionate about? I am passionate about this organization. I am passionate about the people who get involved. Most importantly, I am passionate about these kids and their families who although are living with a horrible disease, can still see the light at the end of the tunnel.

 

I want to end this message with the hope of spreading the word and giving an understanding to others of ho
w much we care about this organization and how important it is to the life of a child. We have a saying at camp that we hold dear to our hearts and that is, “It’s for the kids”. They’re the reason why I choose to advocate and give back and why many others also choose to do so. I would like to personally thank all the donors and future donors, camp counselors, doctors, nurses, facilitators, staff, and anyone else who chooses to be a part of this loving family.

With much love,

Taquito

Margot AndersonFormer Camper Gives Thanks
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Summer Camp 2016 Recap

This summer’s Camp Laurel program was an absolute whirlwind of fun, new activities, and so many memories! Thanks to our amazing volunteers and donors, our campers were able to spend a week surrounded by a supportive community of their peers where they got to participate in engaging activities like swimming, challenge courses, native arts, high ropes, archery, and so much more!

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As always, the goal of Camp Laurel is to build our campers’ sense of self-esteem and self-worth by encouraging them to try new activities, work outside of their comfort zones, and develop new skill sets. In addition to many traditional camp activities, Camp Laurel introduced new and unique programming this summer focused on helping our campers develop skills that can benefit their everyday lives. Our older campers were treated to a brand new cooking program courtesy of our guest staff “Thunder” from Jameson Ranch Camp. This workshop not only helped them create culinary wonders for the entire camp community (like Nopales and handmade granola bars), but it also showed them how they can incorporate healthy eating habits using ingredients they can find in their own neighborhoods into their everyday meals.

An exciting new mountain biking program pushed campers of all ages to expand their perceived capacities and rise to the challenge of this invigorating outdoor sport. It also showed our campers a whole new way to explore the beauty of nature and get a killer workout to boot! Campers were further encouraged to expand their love of nature through more new outdoor activities such as geocaching, and trenting (another Jameson Ranch Camp guest program). Geocaching introduced many campers to the different ways they can navigate through nature and trenting gave a whole new meaning to outdoor adventures!

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This summer we also added in some very special elements for our teen campers, including an overnight campout adventure, complete with a long hiking in, tent camping, and stories around the campfire! The teens were encouraged to work as a team to make the program a success, as together they had to hike up all their supplies, build their campsite, and work as a community throughout the evening. In addition to spending a fun evening under the stars, the teen overnight campout also gave this group a chance to bond with other youth encountering the same stigma and challenges as themselves, and helped lay the foundation for a positive peer support system that they can turn to both inside of camp and throughout the year.

The stories they brought back, memories they made, and teamwork they developed just goes to show that s’mores and sleeping under the stars is the perfect way to end the summer!

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Although a lot of new programs were added this summer, Camp Laurel still kept our favorite traditions going! Back by popular demand, our campers were treated to Camp Laurel’s favorite evening program- the Great Noodie Bird Hunt! The counselor team also put on one of the best all-camp dances in recent memory, complete with photo booth, costumes, and all the best dance tunes that DJ Kidney Bean could find!

Whether it was through new activities or class camp favorites, campers of all ages were given the unique opportuntiy to try new experiences, rise beyond their perceived capacities, and develop new life skills such as teamwork, leadership, and communication through the programs presented at Camp Laurel.

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Even with all the fun activities that camp offers, we’ve heard time and again from youth that have graduated our programs that Camp Laurel has provided them with so much more than just a fun time. Camp Laurel is a place where they learn to believe in themselves, where they are taught to work with their peers towards common objectives, and where they get to expand their abilities. Its a safe place they can return to year after year where they are not judged for what they’re dealing with, but supported for who they are.

This summer we saw yet another group of amazing young adults embrace these ideals through Camp Laurel’s Counselor-In-Training program. This leadership development program helped these campers use the skills they’ve learned at Camp Laurel to support other youth in the program by taking on leadership roles and responsibilities. Over the course of camp, the teens in this program developed crucial life skills (active listening, communication, problem solving, etc) through leadership workshops and hands-on experience leading programs and supporting the younger campers. This group set the bar even higher for CITs following in their footsteps, with the incredible amount of care, creativity, and great leadership potential they showed every day of the program! What an amazing team!

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This summer was without a doubt one of the most fun Camp Laurel programs in recent memory and makes us even more excited to get back to camp with our Family Camp program early next year! We can’t wait to see you all there!!!

Margot AndersonSummer Camp 2016 Recap
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Camp Laurel changed my life

My name is Grissel Granados and I was a camper with Camp Laurel from the age of 7 to about 17, actually I was there at the very first Camp Laurel ever! Camp Laurel was a family tradition as well, once my little sister was old enough she went to Summer Camp every year with me; and in the winter my mom, my sister, and I all went to Camp Laurel’s Family Camp.
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As a person who was born with HIV, Camp Laurel was instrumental to my growing up without stigma and allowing me to just be a kid. While my family made me feel loved and told me I could do whatever I set my mind to, regardless of my HIV status, Camp Laurel was a place where I could actually see it for myself. At camp I could push myself to try new things that were beyond my imagination (particularly growing up as a poor person of color), such as horseback riding, or kayaking…it is where I learned how to swim, and where I challenged my fear of heights with the support of my camp friends and counselors.
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Camp Laurel reminded me that I wasn’t alone…

I felt the support of my camp family through the hard times I faced outside of camp as well. When I was 10 I was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo chemo therapy. I remember one camp counselor shaved his head in solidarity when I had to cut off my hair. I also remember having camp friends visit me in the hospital. Camp Laurel reminded me that I wasn’t alone and it was my safe haven in between chemo sessions.
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My friendships with the kids I met through The Laurel Foundation spanned beyond the few days a year we got to spend together. We kept in touch through out the year writing letters to each other. The importance of these friendships  proved to be much more valuable as we grew up and started to face the real world as teens and young adults growing up with HIV..After camp, I went off to UC Santa Barbara for college and proceeded to become a social worker in the HIV field working with Adolescents and Young Adults who are living with or at-risk for acquiring HIV. Despite my professional experience in the field of HIV/AIDS, I found that without the friends I met through Camp Laurel in my life, I started to feel extremely isolated. I started to think I was the only person born with HIV, even though intellectually I knew I wasn’t.

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I took it upon myself to re-connect with the community I lost through the process of creating a documentary on the first generation of people born with HIV in the 80s and 90s. I interviewed 4 young adults, one of them being my best friend from Camp Laurel, Allie. There were many commonalities in our story, but the most striking was this sense of isolation. From those who did not get the opportunity to go to camp, there was a almost sense of injustice and envy that they missed out on such a critical source of support that only a few of us had.

I’ve done about a dozen screenings a cross the country since September of last year when I premiered the film and the question that comes up 100% of the time is about camp, because Allie mentions how important it was for her. This clip is only about 30 seconds and yet every single time it is something that touches audiences. People want to know where there are camps, how they can connect kids they know to camp, how they can support The Laurel Foundation’s mission. At every screening I get asked how we recreate something like this for those of us who are in our late 20s and early 30s now, and still very much in need of the experiences that The Laurel Foundation provides.

I am the person I am today because I went to Camp Laurel

.As a 29 year old woman today I continue to reap the benefits of having gone to Camp Laurel during my childhood. I am in touch with camp friends through Facebook, I meet up with them for lunch from time to time. I see pictures of their weddings and their kids and I feel re-connected to my own community… I continue to see examples of how we can do anything we set our minds to despite our HIV status. Every few years I pull out my box of Camp Laurel mementos and reminisce. As I try new experiences now, I always have some example of how I have tried something similar before at camp to give me courage and push my boundaries. I am the person I am today and I continue to try new things because I went to Camp Laurel.

 

Grissel

– Grissel Granados

Margot AndersonCamp Laurel changed my life
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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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