July Donor Spotlight – The North Face

This summer, The North Face is helping The Laurel Foundation get kids excited about exploring the outdoors through The North Face Explore Fund! The North Face Explore Fund is dedicated to helping kids experience the outdoors, and is a tireless advocate of the wonders and transformative nature of the outdoor world. The Explore Fund provides $500,000 annually in grants to nonprofits focused on helping kids get active and get outdoors!

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The Laurel Foundation is honored to partner with The North Face Explore Fund this summer to provide even more dynamic programming for the at-risk children and youth attending our 2015 Summer Camp. Through this exciting program, we will be introducing the kids to a whole new view of the outdoors by providing a week of outdoor education activities, guaranteed to help the kids fall in love with the natural world!

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Join The North Face and The Laurel Foundation’s movement to get kids exploring the natural world by trying a new outdoor activity! There are tons of ways to get get out and get active this summer. Start by joining The Laurel Foundation for free paddle board lessons, swimming, and beach sports at our upcoming Family Beach Day! Give your children a week of outdoor education, including horseback riding, rock climbing, kayaking, mountain boarding, and archery, at our 2015 Summer Camp program!
Adventure is calling!
Margot AndersonJuly Donor Spotlight – The North Face
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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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It seems impossible to express in a few paragraphs everything that The Laurel Foundation has meant to me or to capture the essence of all the little miracles that I have witnessed at the many camps that I have attended. I immediately responded to the vision of The Laurel Foundation. This wasn’t just about providing an escape for kids living with HIV/AIDS. Margot Anderson, the founder of the organization, had a vision of providing the campers with an experience that would empower them and provide them with the tools to meet the challenges that they would face throughout the duration of their lives. This vision is one of the things that really differentiated Camp Laurel and The Laurel Foundation and has kept me coming back over the years.

I first became aware of Camp Laurel during the summer of 1996. I had just graduated from college and most of my friends had already moved away. I was bored and channel surfing when something grabbed my attention. It was an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show. While I only caught the end, it was evident that it was about children living with HIV and AIDS. As the credits began to roll, they flashed the numbers of a few summer camps dedicated to children living with what at the time seemed a terminal illness. I silently made a commitment to myself to volunteer the next year. The following summer I found myself volunteering for not one but two different camps. Camp Laurel was one of them.

I witnessed something at that first camp that I will never forget:

A group of counselors, including myself, were taking a large group of campers rock climbing. And it wasn’t going so well. There were the typical teen attitudes of being too cool for this. There was boredom and impatience. There was disinterest. And probably a great deal of unexpressed fear. The staff was frustrated and at our wits end when a counselor approached a girl sitting on the sidelines.

The girl was in a wheelchair and in the process of going blind. She was facing health issues that most of the other kids had yet to encounter. The counselor simply asked her if she would like to try. And she said yes – so two of the stronger counselors lifted her from her wheelchair. She was helped into a harness by the instructor and the three men raised her to the side of the cliff. With their encouragement, she made a tentative step, their hands guiding and spotting her.

And then something amazing happened. Some of the other campers started to notice. People glanced over out of the corner of their eyes. Conversations stopped. Counselors and campers began to gather around to cheer the brave girl on. Soon, every single camper and counselor was gathered around, cheering.

The girl did not make it to the top. She took three brave steps. And, as a result, nearly every other camper followed her example and, in the very least, tried.

It is a vision I have never forgotten. Although the girl passed away soon after, she has stayed with me over the years. Sometimes, when I find myself in situations in which I need to find inspiration, to draw upon my own reserves of courage and resilience, this scene returns to me. I remember not only this girl and her bravery but the way an entire community rallied around her in that moment. As I reflect back on all of this, I am moved to tears after all these years – not as much from sadness as at how breathtaking and magnificent the human experience truly is.

One small act of courage can touch the lives of so many. I think of Margot and the risk she took in starting Camp Laurel. How monumental and overwhelming the task before her must have seemed. How almost everything worth doing is done with patience and persistence, one step at a time. This has been the story of my life as well – a lesson I learned from Camp Laurel.

In the last 17 years, The Laurel Foundation has offered year round services for kids and their families living with HIV and AIDS. I have been fortunate enough to have participated in many of these programs: traditional summer camps, winter family camps, spring leadership camps, trips to Yosemite and snowboarding in Mammoth, holiday parties, among others. While some of these have been cut due to budget issues, the initial vision that Margot had lives on and continues to evolve.

The Laurel Foundation literally changed the course of my life. As a result of my involvement with the organization, I became a Special Education teacher. While pursuing my Master’s degree, it became increasingly difficult for me to be involved with camp. This last summer, after a 7 year absence, I finally returned. I was a counselor for eight 8-10 year old boys. The 17 year old Counselor-in-Training who was placed with my group had been a camper in my cabin 7 years earlier, the last time I had volunteered. It blew my mind to see what an amazing man he had become.

I must admit that I felt some remorse at having missed out on witnessing all these kids grow up. As I told a friend who later became a volunteer himself, consistency is one of the most important things you can offer a child. The Laurel Foundation has been a consistent presence in these kids’ lives. They have grown up with camp. Just as I have.

As a result of my returning to the fold, I was approached about participating in the LEAF mentorship program – an opportunity which thrilled me. When they mentioned who they had in mind as my mentee, it rang a memory bell. The next time I visited the offices, they confirmed his name. This time I pulled out a photo of me and a smiling boy. “Is this him?” I asked. Their jaws dropped in disbelief. It was Josh. On the back of the photo there was a date: July 11, 1997. The photo was taken on his birthday, outside the dining hall, right after I had presented him with a birthday cake. It was the only photo I had left from that first camp. Unfortunately, the rest had been lost in a move many years prior. I had set this one photo aside because it had always meant so much to me, epitomizing that special bond between camper and counselor.

Later, when we had our first official meeting as mentor and mentee, I gave a copy of the photo to Josh. I reminded him of my camp name, “Bunny”, and asked him if he remembered what he was called. Without hesitation, he replied, “Little Bunny”. Since then, we have met up twice and talked on the phone many times. I am excited to see where this journey takes us, just as I am to see where the LEAF program takes the Laurel Foundation as a whole.

The seed of the Laurel Foundation was planted what seems like so many years ago. It began with a conversation Margot had on a treadmill at the gym. It was just an idea then, the seed of a vision. But the seed was planted and it has continued to grow like its namesake – a Laurel tree.

This I can say from experience:

The Laurel Foundation changes lives. It has certainly changed mine.

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I’ve been coming to The Laurel Foundation since I was 7 years old. As a camper I had amazing experiences and beautiful memories were made thanks to the phenomenal staff and counselors who I looked up to. I wanted to become a counselor one day; it was a dream for mine. But once I turned 18 things changed in my life that blocked my path. This went on for 3 years and of course during those 3 years I felt that something was missing. Goals that I had set for myself came tumbling down one after another. I hit rock bottom and was down there for a while; I lost everything, my dignity, pride, and myself.

I then moved back to my mother’s house, where I started to pick up the pieces and myself. I decided to leave everything behind and start a fresh beginning. Then I remembered The Laurel Foundation (Camp Laurel), where I had encountered great moments, love, and friendship. This was what I was missing, I then asked for an application and printed it out. As I read the application, I felt a sense of relief and was reminded of the support that surrounded me. A few days after I interviewed to be a counselor, I received a call that I had been accepted. I was very excited that I got that chance to be part of camp again. Words couldn’t describe what I was feeling, this was a dream come true for me. From this moment on I felt that nothing could bring me down. I felt accomplished and I knew this time around I would do things right.

The Laurel Foundation means a great deal to me, it’s a part of my life and my second family. It’s a place where we can come together, meet others, interact and build bonds and memories that will last forever. It’s a place where I am not afraid of being myself. It’s a magnificent experience that people can’t understand until they’ve experienced it firsthand.

I’ll admit that as we drove home after Winter Family Camp I cried a lot, not of sadness but of happiness, accomplishment, and appreciation for what it had done for myself and for others. Camp gave me confidence in myself and although it took me a while, it broke down several walls that I had up. The Laurel Foundation has made me the man I am today. I don’t know what I would have done and how I would have turned out without Camp Laurel and The Laurel Foundaiton in my life. THANK YOU!

– Josh

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FEBRUARY 13-16, 2010

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” there’s a place where love is bountiful and hugs are a’ plenty. Winter Family Camp 2010 was just that place where the ground was covered in snow, the campers were full of excitement and the parents were ready to have some fun! The stress and stigma of HIV/AIDS was melting away, just like the snow on the ground. Returning once again to YMCA Camp Arbolado, 92 campers, including children ages 3-17 and their parents/guardians, joined the Winter Family Camp experience.
Winter Family Camp is unique because it gives parents and guardians the chance to experience what Camp Laurel is all about. Now, instead of just hearing their children sing the camp songs they learned at Summer Camp, they can sing along to the songs they learned together. Winter Family Camp, with the help of highly trained medical and counseling staff, helped create an atmosphere where campers were able to forget about their illness and enjoy life. This was achieved as participants pushed past their comfort zones by trying new activities, developing a stronger family unit, and creating supportive relationships with their peers.

Reflecting on experiences at Winter Family Camp throughout the year is one way to bring smiles to the faces of parents and guardians who deal with the stressful realities of HIV/AIDS. The proof of their personal growth is apparent as they reconnect with the Camp Laurel once camp is over. One parent called to express that her feelings of isolation and loneliness decreased while her confidence in her ability to parent has grown through her participation with Camp Laurel. Another parent expressed that Camp Laurel taught him about togetherness and tolerance, while he feels the life lessons learned at camp made him a better parent as he discovered his son could be independent.

For parents, the self-awareness and new surroundings at camp give them a chance to see their children in a whole different light that transcends beyond camp. They observe their children as leaders and role models; they laugh and play with their children in a safe and non-judgmental environment. There is hope. They can exhale.
In a world where the worries of HIV/AIDS are ever present, the Counselors-in-Training (CITs), through the superb guidance of veteran counselors, Ruben and Lorenzo, set an example to the younger campers of what it takes to be a leader at Camp Laurel. Ranging in age from 15-17, the CITs are campers who have shown true leadership skills, both past and present, and continue to demonstrate what it means to be a positive role model. They were truly the Yellow Brick Road that helped lead other campers to success by guiding them through difficult obstacles.
This year the sun smiled down at us with perfect weather. And as the campers and volunteers winded their way down the mountain with warm hearts and big smiles, singing camp songs until there were no more songs to be sung, the bright and colorful rainbow of Winter Family Camp 2010 reflected brightly in the sky, reminding them of the amazing memories that were made this year and of the new memories to be had at camp next year.
As one parent said, “Camp Laurel has given me and my kids a better outlook on life.” I guess there really is NO PLACE LIKE CAMP!!

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