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!
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!
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.