Our Stories

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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Amazon Smile and Camp Laurel

The holidays are coming! Please select Camp Laurel Foundation on for your AmazonSmile charity. With each purchase you make a percentage will be donated by Amazon to our organization!

Margot AndersonAmazon Smile and Camp Laurel
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2020 Volunteer of the Year!

The Laurel Foundation

would like to extend a huge congratulations and

thank you to our 2020 Volunteer of the year:

RAINBOW!

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!

Margot Anderson2020 Volunteer of the Year!
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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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2018 Volunteer of the Year!

The Laurel Foundation would like to extend a huge congratulations and thank you to our 2018 Volunteer of the year:

Mako! 

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!

Margot Anderson2018 Volunteer of the Year!
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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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Memories from Summer Camp Session 2 July 30- August 2, 2017

Thank you to everyone who helped to make this camp possible (donors, volunteers and staff).  Session 2 was AMAZING.  And we have the photos to prove it (more will be uploaded so check back in a day or so)!  See you next year!

 

Margot AndersonMemories from Summer Camp Session 2 July 30- August 2, 2017
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Memories from Summer Camp Session 1 June 17-June 24, 2017

 

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.

See you next year, Session 1!

 


Margot AndersonMemories from Summer Camp Session 1 June 17-June 24, 2017
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2017 Volunteer of the Year!

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!

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!

Thank you!

Margot Anderson2017 Volunteer of the Year!
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