On July 31, 2022, The Laurel Foundation once again hosted its summer camp session for children and youth affected by HIV/AIDS. With excitement in the air, 24 counselors and volunteers waited for the bus full of happy campers to arrive. Instead, our first day of camp was greeted by a mountain monsoon, changing plans and forcing both kids and counselors to work together as a team to overcome all the obstacles Mother Nature shared.
But if you’ve been to camp, you know, teams can survive anything! And that we did! The storm came and went but did not wash away our spirits. In fact, the storm brought us all closer together and made this summer’s Camp Laurel even more powerful. We learned that there are times when we need to rely on one another, be open to others’ thoughts and opinions and that communication is key to problem-solving.
The great thing about Camp is that we learn all these life skills and take them back to the “real world”, helping us in our daily lives. The resourcefulness and quick thinking of counselors helped get camp started even as we rearranged in the wild weather, and the patience and resilience of our campers was a reminder to all of us about why we take time out of busy lives to spend a week at camp.
Our goal at The Laurel Foundation is to empower the youth so that they have the tools to build productive, successful lives. We strive to build independence, self-esteem, community, self-advocacy, and communication skills. We do our best to accomplish this by providing an emotionally and physically safe environment, where the kids participate in classic camp activities such as swimming, hiking, mountain biking, archery, high and low ropes, arts and crafts, and more. Thanks to the wonderful partnership we have with Hollywood Heart, we also added activities such as mindfulness, and puppet making! We also had Chef Katie join us again this year!
Through all of these activities, campers set personal challenges, used their creativity, and tried things they wouldn’t usually get to do at home. With the support of their peers, all strived to achieve their goals. We saw campers climb up the high ropes and complete the entire challenge course, learn to ride a bike for the first time, manage to ride over rocks and sticks on the mountain trails, make their first tie-dye shirt, sleep under the open sky and watch shooting stars, roast marshmallows on the campfire and eat s’mores, participate in the hula hoop contest at our Carnival Night, shoot a bulls-eye at archery, or learn how to make a charcuterie board with cheeses and spreads.
By camp’s end, the growth in our campers was evident. Campers who came to camp wanting to learn a new skill and were ready to push their perceived limits, climbed the high ropes, lead an evening program, mastered a new craft, or learned how to cook. For many, learning how to calm one’s self through mindfulness was an unexpected tool they could take home with them to help them through tough times. The things that are gained at camp have a life-long impact.
For some, the impact of camp is more subtle and has an impact on the heart. Youth that started out hesitant about camp and reluctant to trust their peers, learned that they were accepted for who they are, and as a result, were able to truly enjoy camp as their authentic selves for the week. At the end of the week, teenagers who arrived aloof and uninterested in camp truly did not want to leave. Even after 29 years, it’s clear that what Camp Laurel offers is still relevant and deeply needed for all ages.
So many people make this life-changing experience possible. Thank you to all our community who helped to make Camp Laurel happen this summer. We thank everyone, from our donors, mental help team volunteers, medical volunteers, counselors, and staff. It takes a village, and we are grateful to you all. You gave each camper a week that will live in their hearts for the rest of their lives!