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!
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.
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.
The Laurel Foundation is extremely fortunate to have the support of an outstanding volunteer base, who give their own personal time and resources to give back to children, youth and families affected by HIV/AIDS. It is only through this amazing group of selfless individuals that we are able to continue to provide free educational and support programs for the at-risk families we serve! It takes a very special kind of person to devote their vacation days, or take time off school, to volunteer, and today we want to take a moment to recognize one volunteer that has gone above and beyond even that high criteria.
Due to her incredible drive and dedication to supporting the families we serve, The Laurel Foundation is delighted to announce that our 2017 Volunteer of the Year is the one and only:
Juice Box has become such an important part of the Camp Laurel family as she volunteers not only at camp but also as our Nonprofit Management Intern. Her dedication of time and energy to The Laurel Foundation’s mission, campers, and families is ahh-mazing!
At camp she can be found interacting with campers, appreciating volunteers, wow-ing everyone with her incredible flexibility and positive spirit. She is always ready to greet the campers and her fellow counselors with some positivity!
We asked Juice Box how she initially become involved with The Laurel Foundation:
“The Laurel Foundation had advertised within the Public Health Department at SDSU. My professor shared the opportunity with us and although I was not able to volunteer that semester, I ended up applying the next summer. ”
We asked Juice Box what some of her favorite parts about volunteering with The Laurel Foundation so far:
“I love getting to see how much behind the scenes work in the office it takes to put on camp, but also have loved being brought in to the Camp Laurel family. It’s great seeing the kids at camp and working with the volunteers- it feels like one big happy family.”
Throughout her time in the office Juice Box can be found constantly asking: “What else can I do to help?” An invaluable and much appreciated phrase in the office!
Juice Box, we appreciate you for your time, dedication, and positive spirit you bring to The Laurel Foundation!
That’s right, it’s almost our favorite time of year again – time for Summer Camp!!!
Camp Laurel’s Summer Camp is a unique program that focuses on traditional outdoor education programming while catering to the fragile physical and mental health of children and youth living with HIV/AIDS. This program exposes our low-income at-risk campers to experiences they would otherwise never encounter, such as working with farm animals, camping outdoors, and collaboratively living with groups of their peers. Our carefully designed Summer Camp also helps increase each child’s self-esteem by challenging their perceived capabilities and empowering them through the development of important life skills (communication, team work, resiliency, creativity, etc).
This year we’re excited to be returning to the fabulous Jameson Ranch Camp to offer our campers uniquely designed an outdoor education Summer Camp program. That means the summer will be filled with even more of the amazing programs including horseback riding, rock climbing (on real rocks!), mountain biking, and so much more!
Of course, even more than the activities and campsite, what makes our camps truly magical is our awesome crew of camp counselors who bring the program to life. So help us make this summer one to remember for the kids by joining the Summer Camp team today! For more information about what it means to be a volunteer with The Laurel Foundation, please visit our volunteer page or email our Director of Volunteers, Lauren Franklin.
The Laurel Foundation is extremely fortunate to have the support of an outstanding volunteer base, who sacrifice their own personal time and resources to give back to children, youth and families affected by HIV/AIDS. It is only through this amazing group of selfless individuals that we are able to continue to provide free educational and support programs for the at-risk families we serve! It takes a very special kind of person to devote their vacation days, or take time off school, to volunteer, and today we want to take a moment to recognize one volunteer that has gone above and beyond even that high criteria.
Due to her incredible drive and dedication to supporting the families we serve, The Laurel Foundation is delighted to announce that our 2016 Volunteer of the Year is the one and only TATOR TOT!
To find out more about Tater Tot’s experience volunteering with The Laurel Foundation, we started by asking how she got involved in the first place.
I first found out about Camp Laurel through my friend, Laura (Cheese). We were grabbing food after work one day and I mentioned that I was trying to find ways to get involved in the community. Hearing that, Laura said that I had to give volunteering at Camp Laurel a try because I’d be a perfect fit for the program. Although I had never worked at a camp before, I knew that I liked working with kids from my experience as a classroom aid and working at a family family back in WA. The way that she spoke about Camp Laurel and the community it creates definitely got me interested, so I decided to apply.
I’m so glad it all worked out, because my phone interview to join my first camp was rough! Right before I was scheduled to call the office, my car broke down, leaving me stranded in the Santa Monica Library parking lot. I had to answer interview questions while muffling the sound of traffic and dodging people asking for donations!
Fortunately, despite her rough first call, Tater Tot showed to be a natural fit for our camp family and has been volunteering with us ever since. Not only is TaterTot an incredible asset to camp, she has also been an unbelievable support at our events throughout the year and at the office. No matter if its a project large or small, she never hesitates to step up and help out!
Nothings prepares you of the amazing community that makes up the Camp Laurel family.
I remember at my first camp training they pulled me and the other new counselors aside right when the day started. When we walked in to join the rest of the staff, everyone started singing the “we love you new counselors” song, and I was blown away. I thought, “what the heck have I just gotten myself into?!”
Since she joined The Laurel Foundation’s team in 2013, TaterTot has been a steady fixture at both camp and The Laurel Foundation’s year-round events. In fact, Tater Tot hasn’t missed a camp since she started volunteering at Camp Laurel!
In particular, I love the evening programs at Camp Laurel because you never know what you’re going to get with them! Anytime you run a big all-camp activity, you can be sure that something changes from what you had planned and that you’re going to have to be flexible and adjust. Thats one of the great things about volunteering at camp. I think, that you have to learn to let it go and just live in the moment. We asked Tater Tot why coming back to Camp Laurel every year was so important to her, and her answer really touched our hearts:
I keep coming back to Camp Laurel because its so rewarding to get to know the campers through the different programs. As you keep coming back, campers begin to recognize you and you become a part of their lives. And every camp you get to know them a little better as well, which really gets you invested in these kids and their development as individuals. Its almost like they become a part of your extended family and every time you reconnect at camp is like a reunion.
My favorite part of camp is the unscheduled time you get with your campers in the cabins. Even though these aren’t the times when we’re doing all the fun camp programming, this is when you really get to know the kids you’re working with. When its just your cabin hanging out, they let you see their silly sides and who they are as individuals. This is when you really get to see them grow.
TaterTot, the positivity, compassion, and dedication you bring to everything you do is an inspiration to witness. Thanks for being the amazing person you are! We’re so lucky to have you on The Laurel Foundation team!
We are excited to announce that our 2016 Family Camp will be occurring May 6 – 8 (Friday – Sunday). We have heard time and time again that the parents want a warmer camp (hence the date change) and a more “retreat-like” setting. Well … WE HEARD YOU! This Spring our Family Camp will be at a BRAND NEW SITE! Thats right, we will be hosting our first ever Family Camp program at the gorgeous Camp Stevens, located in the mountains of San Diego County.
We are incredibly excited for this brand new venture and know that you will be too. Our CEO, Margot Anderson, explored the facilities of Camp Stevens late last year and took a ton of pictures, specifically to share with you. So prepare to get excited about this new site through a quick picture tour. Lets get going!
One of the things that drew us to Camp Stevens immediately was its beautiful grounds and comfortable facilities.
This beautiful retreat-like camp will be more comfortable for our parents. The facilities will give the parents a more relaxed setting, one that will help facilitate the formation of important support groups.
The dining room is not only AWESOME, but the food is too! Organic farming on site will teach both the children and parents how the importance of good food choices can be healthy and taste GREAT!
We also fell in love with the cozy meeting rooms and indoor programming space! The parents now can sit by a fire, sip on tea and coffee, and munch on popcorn while participating in important discussions facilitated by our volunteer social workers.
The comfortable cabins didn’t hurt either!
Plus, how neat would sleeping in a fully equipped yurt be?!
We saw at Jameson Ranch Camp this summer how great organic, homegrown food can taste while you’re up at camp. Camp Stevens, as mentioned, grows a lot of the food we will be eating on site, and additionally offers cooking classes! Now we can all learn how to cook healthy food that tastes GREAT.
Just like summer camp … we will pick fresh eggs for breakfast!
Best part of all (in our opinion) is that Camp Stevens offers all these amazing amenities and STILL has all the fun camp activities that we know and love here at Camp Laurel.
High and Low Ropes
We could not be more delighted with this campsite and wish that we were at camp already so we can experience it all in person! Spring Family Camp is definitely going to be a program to remember – we hope to see you all there! So save the date and please join us May 6 – 8 for Spring Family Camp 2016!
Check out our video of Spring Camp and other 2016 programs!