Camp Mulberry Summer 2022


Camp Mulberry 2022 is one for the books! As campers arrived at Pathfinder Ranch, their pre-camp jitters started to give way to excitement as they began to see familiar faces of their camp friends and meet their counselors. This year Camp Mulberry was busy with 40 campers aged 9-17. Our counselors were ready to welcome them, and from the very beginning there was bonding and it was clear to see the sparks of life-changing connections beginning to form.

While the week was busy with the classic camp fun: archery, hiking, ropes course, and canoeing, there were also one-of-a-kind offerings, like workshops on Healthy Relationships and Gender Euphoria. These were led by our “help team”, camp volunteers who support the community with mental health expertise. Opportunities to participate in the tried-and-true camp favorites and experience special workshops and moments created just for our population of transgender and gender-diverse campers is what makes Camp Mulberry a truly special place. 

Both of our camps this year were challenged by late summer weather, and just like Camp Laurel, Camp Mulberry was not thwarted by the afternoon downpours of August monsoons. Our campers and counselors adjusted to the changes and challenges of each day and made the most of their time together in cabins and activities. One of the highlights of any camp experience is watching a community grow and figure out how to face each day working together and learning about one another, this year was no exception.

All of our counselors brought their own skills and talents which were put on display through lively and creative evening activities that they designed and led. Campers grasped those opportunities to let their style and humor shine through in everything they did. From a superhero fashion show, complete with superheroes that end transphobia, to an air band competition that got everyone on their feet with hits from Weezer and Guns and Roses performed by cabin groups, to a night of dreaming of a whole new world and what that would look like that at our Dream Vision Gallery night, our campers gave it their all and brought the house down with heart and humor.

Every year, camp ends with a very special campfire that includes skits and sharing, both silly and sincere. This year was especially unique, as it was hosted by one of our Senior campers, who totally rocked it. While the evening always starts out with very, very, very silly skits and songs from each cabin, it’s also a time when we celebrate accomplishments and have a chance to share wishes for the future. This year, for the first time, the Camp Mulberry Legacy award was given out to a former camper who returned as a counselor. As “Bronco” was handed his award, you could hear murmurs from campers as they realized this is something they can work towards, too. 

Closing campfire is also a time to see how our campers have grown during the week, and sometimes over the years. One thing that is consistent, is that as the campers share their hopes and wishes, we are reminded that the camp experience is more needed than ever. Camp Mulberry is a life-changing place for these incredible young people to play and learn and grow, in a place where they are unconditionally accepted for who they are. Being part of this camp is an honor, and it can’t be done without all the different parts of our community playing their role.

None of this would be possible without brave campers who say yes to trying something new, parents who believe in what camp can do, loving counselors and volunteers who understand how to connect and have fun, and the support of medical and mental health professionals to step away from their own busy lives to step into the world of camp, staff members, board members, and donors. Thank you to each person who made this week possible, you were part of something that will stay with campers for the rest of their lives!

Margot AndersonCamp Mulberry Summer 2022
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Camp Laurel Summer 2022 Report

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. 

Camp Laurel Summer Camp 2022

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!

Margot AndersonCamp Laurel Summer 2022 Report
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Trans Youth on Finding Support and Community at Camp Mulberry

Camp Mulberry

GMA logo

By Yi-Jin Yu June 30, 2022

At first glance, Camp Mulberry, a weeklong summer camp in California for children and teens, might look just like any other sleepaway camp that offers kids the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors. But what makes Camp Mulberry extraordinary is that it’s a cost-free camp specifically for transgender and gender-diverse children and features volunteer staffers who are also trans themselves.

Camp Mulberry was established in 2016 by the nonprofit The Laurel Foundation, which runs a camp for kids impacted by HIV and AIDS after they noticed a need for a camp for trans kids.

PHOTO: In past years, Camp Mulberry has been hosted in Big Bear Lake, California. This year, Camp Mulberry returns for a weeklong in-person camp in Mountain Center, California.

Courtesy Camp MulberryIn past years, Camp Mulberry has been hosted in Big Bear Lake, California. This year, Camp Mulberry returns for a weeklong in-person camp in Mountain Center, California.

“We reached out to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and they absolutely said there was a need, and specifically not an LGBTQ camp — there’s definitely those out there, which is definitely needed — but specifically for transgender, gender diversity,” Laurel Foundation CEO and founder Margot Anderson told “Good Morning America,” adding that the camp is named after the mulberry tree, which is capable of switching its sex.

Six years later, there’s still a need. A 2022 study by The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ-focused suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization, shows that nearly two in five LGBTQ youth say they live in a community that is unaccepting of LGBTQ people.

A “really special” and inclusive camp

Jordan Held, a licensed clinical social worker, and therapist, has worked with Camp Mulberry for the past five years and is now one of the camp’s co-mental health directors.

“For some of these young people, it’s the first time they’ve ever been around an entire group of people not only that affirms them and supports them, but that’s like them. And so that’s what makes this camp really special,” Held said.

Held said some of the kids who’ve attended Camp Mulberry may be struggling with various issues — from family and peer rejection to self-harm.

“The benefit of having mental health providers as volunteer staff at the camp is that when crises come up, there are professionals who know how to deescalate, how to communicate effectively with these young people and really get on their level. So I like to say that it’s a regular summer camp with therapeutic components,” he added.

Izzy, 10, who first went to Camp Mulberry last summer, was excited to attend and appreciates that the camp provides mental health professionals and counselors.

“If you ever want to talk to someone about something, you can go there and talk to them about it,” she said. “You get to be with the people that are like you. You don’t need to worry about stuff.”

PHOTO: Mati, 14, has attended Camp Mulberry four times so far and has even met one of her best friends at the camp.

Courtesy Camp MulberryMati, 14, has attended Camp Mulberry four times so far and has even met one of her best friends at the camp.

”That extra thing that we can all relate to”

Mati, 14, has been to Camp Mulberry in person three times (and one virtual session in 2020) and says it was at camp where she met one of her best friends.

“I feel like [last year] was … the best year. I made more friends than usual,” Mati said.

“For me, it’s like, I don’t even think about the fact that we’re all trans really that often. It feels like a normal camp and it is a normal camp. It’s really nice and fun. But there is that extra thing that we can all relate to, which I think is nice,” she added, noting that she’s excited to return this summer and reunite with old friends.

Mati’s mother, Cristy Mereles, is a therapist who works with trans youth and said she’s heard from clients who’ve also attended Camp Mulberry.

“A lot of my clients that have the chance to go to Camp Mulberry will say things like, that is a time that their gender noise can just be quiet for a week, gender noise being that inside dialogue, thought patterns that are constantly awake and aware and on guard. Is somebody going to question me going into the bathroom? Is somebody going to question me buying this outfit at the store? Is somebody going to question my gender, period? And they say that for that week, they get a break from that,” Mereles said.

”Inspiring to see how I could be living my life”

Jaxon, also 14, says Camp Mulberry was a “big part” of his 2021.

“It was fun to be in a space with everybody like me. And it felt really inclusive and accepting,” he told “GMA.”

PHOTO: Jaxon, 14, says Camp Mulberry felt "really inclusive and accepting."

Courtesy Camp MulberryJaxon, 14, says Camp Mulberry felt “really inclusive and accepting.”

“They housed everybody by pronouns and age instead of their assigned gender. And there were adults that had gone through transition and it was cool to see people who had met their goals and it was inspiring to see how I could be living my life,” he said.

Zayne attended Camp Mulberry for the first time last year too and, at first, he wasn’t sure if he was fully on board since it was about eight hours from home. But after he arrived, Camp Mulberry counselors welcomed him and soon, he joined in on the fun and games and ended up meeting close friends at camp.

PHOTO: Zayne, 13, describes the activities offered at Camp Mulberry as "epic" and says he loves archery the most.

Courtesy Camp MulberryZayne, 13, describes the activities offered at Camp Mulberry as “epic” and says he loves archery the most.

“I’m so scared of meeting new people, no matter what. So that was a little bit interesting. But I always thought it was pretty cool that we would all be together in a camp,” he said.

The 13-year-old describes the camp, which offered everything from high ropes and swimming to archery — his favorite — and even a fashion show, as an “epic” experience. By the end of the week, Zayne said he was sad to leave but he’s looking forward to returning again this summer.

“I think the fact that a bunch of people from the LGBTQ community have the opportunity to go and be in one camp where it’s specifically all of us and we can just go there and hang out and be totally normal to society … it’s nice that we can do that but then not be bothered by anyone else,” he reflected. “We can all hear about things and learn things but also just have a totally normal camp.”

Like Zayne, Jaxon, Izzy, and Mati, Justice Smith is excited to return to Camp Mulberry but this time, it’ll be his first year as a counselor.

“I had that experience. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so fun. I would love to give back to other trans kids,” Smith, 19, told “GMA” of his desire to become a counselor.

PHOTO: Justice Smith is a former Camp Mulberry camper and told "GMA" he's excited to return as a counselor and introduce a new generation of campers to the Camp Mulberry community.

Courtesy Justice SmithJustice Smith is a former Camp Mulberry camper and told “GMA” he’s excited to return as a counselor and introduce a new generation of campers to the Camp Mulberry community.

“Now in a way, I am the adult that I looked up to so much and asked a million questions about their life and I have a good life and I’m doing things that I want to do with my life. So I am excited to share that with a new generation,” he said.

Head couneslor Kaylie Love Murphey, who is openly proud of being transgender, says bringing the traditional camp experience alive for young trans kids in particular is an “amazing experience” and means so much to her.

PHOTO: Kaylie Love Murphey first started volunteering as a Camp Mulberry counselor in 2018 and will return as head counselor this year.

Courtesy Camp MulberryKaylie Love Murphey first started volunteering as a Camp Mulberry counselor in 2018 and will return as head counselor this year.

“I grew up going to camp. I was in Boy Scout camp when I was a kid. And even as a kid, there’s always something off,” Murphey said. “I couldn’t be myself at camp. And when I heard about the experience that these campers can be themselves. It just sounded like an amazing experience that I wanted to help make happen.”

Through camp, Murphey hopes to instill the idea that support is out there for trans children and that they’re not alone.

“They can learn that not only is it OK to be transgender,” she said. “There’s millions of people going through the same journey that [they’re] going through. And there’s millions of people that have already gone through certain struggles and we can support each other. And that’s a beautiful experience.”

Margot AndersonTrans Youth on Finding Support and Community at Camp Mulberry
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Launch Your Dreams!

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:

Looking to volunteer: Email Lisa:

Margot AndersonLaunch Your Dreams!
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A Beacon of Light

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!

Margot AndersonA Beacon of Light
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Camp Laurel Welcomes Brody Ray!

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!

Margot AndersonCamp Laurel Welcomes Brody Ray!
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Winter Family Camp 2018


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!



Margot AndersonWinter Family Camp 2018
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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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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!

DSC_5468  IMG_6013

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!


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!

DSC_5818  hand holding  DSC_5902

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.
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.

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.



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 Granados

Margot AndersonCamp Laurel changed my life
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