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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Message from a Former Camper

 Hi Everyone my name is “Spike” which is my camp name or Erik in the real world.

I have been fortunate enough to be apart of Camp Laurel and The Laurel Foundation. It has changed my life.

My sister was diagnosis with AIDS and passed when I was 10 years old, She had a son Anthony who was 3 when she passed.

Living life in the real world was hard, people were scared of us. At that time people where prejudice, crude, and scared.

It was like I had to be secretive about my sister having AIDS and then secret about her passing, just to fit in. My family was devastated we all were finding ways to cope with life and it was hard.

My mom, went on to educated women about HIV/AIDS and got connected with organizations to learn more about the virus, and she found The Laurel Foundation.

Thank God She did. Home life was a bit of a mess: my parents were divorcing, my grandfather passed away, and I was giving in to peer pressure. I was a very rebellious child at the age of 13. I went to my first camp and I will never forget it.

paddles blogIt was a Fall Camp Laurel session and it was a trip to Space Camp in Northern California. I had never really been outside of Los Angeles so I was scared to meet all these new people. I came to realize that it was so much fun and then something happened. I got into some serious trouble. I was very rebellious and was told I would be sent home. Scared I pleaded that I would change my behavior. I have never been in a place where I was so accepted, free from society and free from the prejudices of HIV/AIDS. I didn’t want to go home. Margot Anderson (the Founder), bless her heart, saw something in me and gave me a second chance. Needless to say I was good from then on. I even received the Apollo award, at a later camp program, for being such a great role model for other campers. Me a role model, yes! From that one moment at my first camp my life was forever changed. I found a family that understood me, an extension of who I am.

I loved camp so much that when I started to grow up and it was time for me to move on … I just couldn’t! I decided to become a camp counselor.

Being the first or one of the first people to go from camper to counselor was an amazing experience. It gave me huge respect for the counselors I had as a child and all counselors. It was long hours, but so worth it. Plus, I had the energy for it. I loved my cabin kids and I saw myself in them at their age. Now I was able to give back to them, what The Laurel Foundation had given to me so graciously. It was the best time I had ever had.

DSC_8415v2But it didn’t stop there! So remember how I said my mom was a bit of a crusader well it’s true my mom suggested we create an AIDS Ride for The Laurel Foundation.

The ride was suggested to The Laurel Foundation by my mom and with the help of MANY, it was created. It was FANTASTIC and continues today as an annual fundraiser for The Laurel Foundation! My mom rode every year up until she couldn’t and then I jumped in and rode. My first bike was a mountain bike, heavy and rough. Every year after that first ride I would get better things … like a bike!

It is my highlight of my year to raise money and give back to The Laurel Foundation. Riding for the kids is an amazing experience.

The Laurel Foundation has change my life and given me a sense of self, honesty, fun, and family.

I am fortunate to have The Laurel Foundation in my life because if they weren’t, my life would be VERY DIFFERENT.

Thank you Margot for that second chance.

Thank you Laurel Foundation.

aka Erik

ta9mrMessage from a Former Camper
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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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Winter Family Camp – A Parent Speaks Out

To The Laurel Foundation,

Mario and I would like to thank you for working with us on getting all that was necessary for us to attend Camp Laurel’s Winter session. We loved it! Mario is looking forward to attending summer camp this year. We met some fantastic people & will keep in touch with each other.

Please thank the many wonderful people who work with you to make these camps available to kids & families that would not be able to spend time in the mountains. You all have planted seeds in us that will continue to grow as the the years go by.

Again, with much appreciation,

Rosalinda Lozano and Mario Avila


ta9mrWinter Family Camp – A Parent Speaks Out
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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

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Be A Microvolunteer


In the non-profit world a common problem persists- there are many willing, generous and talented individuals who want to support a cause but, between work and personal life, just don’t have the time to commit to everything they want to. One easy solution to this is microvolunteering.

Microvolunteering- Easy, quick, low-commitment acts that benefit a worthy cause

You might not be able to commit to an entire camp session but you still feel passionate about The Laurel Foundation’s cause? Then microvolunteering is the way to go! Support The Laurel Foundation and the families it serves on your own time and from the comfort of home. Help with projects that can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour and make a huge impact while doing so.
There are so many ways that you can support The Laurel Foundation right now, and that only take a few minutes of your time. Things like:
Add DropBox to your computer:
 The Laurel Foundation desperately needs more space on its DropBox back up system and the easiest way to get that is by referring new users! So do your own computer a favor and start backing up your computer today!
Email lfranklin@laurel-foundation.org to start backing up!

Translate camp applications and forms into Spanish:
 ¿Se habla español? Help The Laurel Foundation translate one of our many application forms into Spanish so we can better meet the needs of the families we serve!
Email aruiz@laurel-foundation.org to snag an application to work on tonight!


Promote volunteer opportunities on your campus:

Do you have access to a printer and a few extra minutes between classes? Help recruit new volunteers for camp this summer by hanging Camp Laurel flyers at your school! Spread the word and help grow the Camp Laurel family! Email lfranklin@laurel-foundation.org to get your flyers!


Support The Laurel Foundation online:

Help us get the word out about The Laurel Foundation’s events and volunteer needs by sharing our posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Review us on VolunteerMatch and share what makes Camp Laurel so special!

 Visit www.VolunteerMatch.org to share your stories!
ta9mrBe A Microvolunteer
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2014 Volunteer of the Year

It is no secret that the volunteers at The Laurel Foundation are some of the most passionate, caring, and creative individuals you can find. Whether they are running programs, assisting with fundraisers, or acting as mentors our volunteers consistently go above and beyond to assist our families and support the mission of The Laurel Foundation. Within this pool of amazing individuals there are occasionally volunteers that stand out as exceptional, even against this already amazing criterion.

Due to her incredible passion and her dedication to supporting the families we serve, The Laurel Foundation is delighted to announce that Shout Out is our 2014 Volunteer of the Year.

To find out more about how we were able to score such an outstanding volunteer, we asked Shout Out how she first got involved with The Laurel Foundation

In 2010 I was volunteering for the organization Team in Training and I wanted my friends Laura Crow (Cheese) and Molly Fite (Sparky) to run a half marathon fundraiser with me. Cheese did NOT want to run with me, so she decided to strike a deal- if I did her charity, then she would do mine. Honestly, I didn’t really want to do it at first. Camp scared me because I had absolutely no experience with kids at all. I never worked at a camp before, or ever even babysat! It was a really intimidating thought. Cheese made it a challenge though, so I said ‘You’re on!’ and applied. As soon as I got to my first day of training, I knew that I had found a place that felt like home. I’ve been a part of the Camp Laurel family ever since.
Since she started, Shout Out has been a steady fixture at both our Summer and Winter Family Camps. Not only has she been an outstanding counselor, she has taken on many different roles at Camp Laurel throughout the years.
Since I started in 2010, I’ve been to six camps. I’ve been a Cabin Counselor three times, the Program Director twice and most recently the Head of Relief. If I had to pick my favorite role at camp, it would be the Program Director. I really enjoy handling all the logistics of the position and it really appeals to my creative nature. Program Director allows you to see camp as a whole and to get to know all our campers from all different cabins.
My favorite memory of camp was when AstroBunny, Coco, and myself were acting as judges for an Evening Program at Future Day this past summer. The campers were competing to see who could transform their cabins into the best planet. After only about fifteen minutes of prep
time, the campers presented their planets to us through stories, skits, and by transforming their cabins through decorations. We thought we knew how creative our campers were, but we were completely unprepared for the cabin tours! All the cabins were amazing, but oh my god, the intermediate boys were absolutely ridiculous! They had such hilarious performances that had us laughing so hard that we actually started crying. It was amazing.
As much as camp has been a big part of Shout Out’s life these past few years, she has been a big part of The Laurel Foundation as well. In addition to taking on many roles at camp, Shout Out has stepped up to support our campers and their families in a myriad of other ways. She is a common presence at The Laurel Foundation’s office, where she regularly takes on some of the less glamorous jobs that keep camp running smoothly- recruiting volunteers for day events, requesting donations for camp supplies, putting together program manuals, and everything else you can think of! Shout Out’s dedication to supporting the children, youth, and families living with HIV/AIDS that The Laurel Foundation serves is beyond compare.
I keep coming to camp because I love being with the kids. I think that our campers are some of the most amazing people in America. They are inspiring and hilarious, and they help put life in perspective for me. Between our campers and the counselor community, Camp Laurel is a place that truly feels like home. Anyone who has met me knows that I have a ton of natural energy. Camp Laurel is a place where I’m accepted for who I am and where what makes me different is what makes me valuable. Camp is filled with unique people, who love each other and Camp Laurel fiercely. While
all camps are great, Camp Laurel is a uniquely magical, special place due to the love our counselors feel for the cause and for camp itself. I know that the kids see how special camp is through the depth of the love that our counselors show.
Shout Out, you have been such an amazing blessing to our organization and we cannot express just how thankful we are to have your support! You are a joy to our campers and counselors alike and we don’t know what we would do without you.
ta9mr2014 Volunteer of the Year
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This holiday season The Laurel Foundation has been taking
some time to think about what we are grateful for. And as it turns out, we are
grateful for YOU.
“As a new addition to The Laurel Foundation, I am thankful
for everyone who has welcomed me into the family with open arms. I have never
met so many warm, welcoming, and fun individuals in such a concentrated group!
I am so glad that I will get to know everyone better as the year progresses.”
Lauren Franklin
Director of Volunteers
“I’m thankful to have a great job where everyday I know I am
making an impact in people’s lives. I am so grateful for our fabulous families
who open up to me and allow me to be part of their world. You are brave, strong
and a true inspiration.”
Ari Ruiz
Outreach Coordinator
“I am so grateful for our amazing dedicated staff, who day
in and day out, strive to do great work for the good of the amazing families
that we serve. Margot, Lauren, and Ari, you are the heart and soul of this
organization. Thank you for every bit of energy and every ounce of love that
you pour into The Laurel Foundation.”
Cheria Young
Associate Director
“Everyday I am thankful for the support of our board of directors,
our generous donors, dedicated volunteers, and amazing staff for their
contribution to The Laurel Foundation. Your support helps us to send hundreds
of children, youth and families affected by HIV and AIDS through our programs.
You all have done more than make a difference, you have changed lives, and I am
forever grateful.”
Margot Anderson

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The Laurel Foundation is thrilled to announce Laura Crow,
known affectionately as Cheese, as our 2013 Volunteer of the Year. Laura has
been volunteering with our organization since 2009, when she attended her first
Winter Family Camp. Laura shared with me how she got involved,

For years, Nicole
Pepper (volunteer since 2004) would try to convince me that I would be a good
fit for Camp Laurel; so it was often in the back of my mind. I just needed a
push to actually do it. I came to a point where a chapter of my life was coming
to a close and I had that internal push to start something new. So I finally
got up the gumption to apply.
My first camp was a
blur. I remember having so much fun and being so overwhelmed in the best way
possible. It was at the final campfire that I really had a moment to reflect on
my experience. I thought to myself that no matter where I am in the world, no
matter where life takes me, no matter what, I have to come back here every
year. I remember Pepper telling me ‘I knew you would be a lifer.’ She was
right. Since that moment, Winter Family Camp has become the undisputable
fixture in my life.

Cheese, was not the only one won over, we were won over by Cheese. She has been a shining light since her very first camp. That same year she started a fundraising event, something that few volunteers
have done. The fundraising event known as PROM, has generated thousands of
dollars for The Laurel Foundation’s programs and services.

The idea started with
a conversation about the fact that as adults, the only dances we get to attend
are weddings! So I knew I wanted a dance and I knew I wanted the proceeds to go
to charity, so naturally I thought of Camp Laurel. It’s hard for people our age
to donate large amounts of money, but I wanted to provide an opportunity for my
peers to have an experience for a good cause and maybe even plant the seed in
them to volunteer one day.
My first Prom I
thought that everyone was going to dress up in nice dresses, but then people
showed up in these crazy costumes and it just sort of stuck.  I had no idea that was going to happen
and now that’s what Prom is. You can where your fancy dress or you can get
crazy and dress up in some ‘out of this world’ costume! I’ve sort of developed
this brand and now the only thing that changes every year is the theme.

Prom has done more in our community then just raise
thousands of dollars, it has raised awareness about the hundreds of children,
youth and families that The Laurel Foundation serves, who are living with
HIV/AIDS. Laura has been such a blessing to our organization.  What better way to honor her
outstanding commitment and dedication to our families then to name her
volunteer of the year?

I remember my first camp when they named
Tabasco volunteer of the year, I thought ‘Oh my goodness, that is amazing! I
have to be that one year.’ There weren’t ulterior motives; I just wanted to
strive to leave my own little footprint on Camp Laurel. I thought, ‘I would be so lucky to do
that one day.’ So every year I challenged myself to do more.   
I was shocked when I found out that I was the 2013 Volunteer of the Year!  I had hoped that this would happen one
day, but I thought it might be another four years down the road. I called my
parents and my friends right away. You would have thought I had won an Oscar!
I am so honored. I
will always cherish this! Receiving congratulations and wonderful words of
thanks and encouragement from people I admire and respect: people on the board,
the staff, fellow counselors, donors, has really been the cherry on top.

Cheese you deserve every bit of congratulations and
gratitude. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for pouring yourself into
this organization. We are so thankful for you!
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