Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What Camp Laurel Means To Me

The Laurel Foundation became part of my life when I was 7 years old. My mom went to North County Health Services and they mentioned it to her as a way for me to be around other kids that were also affected by HIV/AIDS. My sister and I had an understanding that our mom was sick, but we didn’t really know exactly what it was. My mom wanted to make sure we had support from people that were like us that had sick family members, too.  She wanted us to know that we weren’t alone in case something happened.

When my mom dropped off my sister and I, we cried. We didn’t want to go and begged her to take us home. Coming back from camp, we held onto our counselor and begged him to take us back to camp.

Over the past eleven years of my life, camp has become home to me. It has been where my best memories come from.

I made friends here that I know I can count on at camp and outside of camp. They are friends I will have for the rest of my life. Camp taught me how to stand up 8 times when I have been knocked down 7. Camp taught me that being me is enough and I am worth it. Camp taught me to see the world through eyes that don’t judge and love with a heart that doesn’t know hate. Camp has taught me to dance without care of being judged, and to think before I yuck someone’s yum. Camp has taught me to love myself.

Admitting to the world that you are different is the scariest thing you can do and often someone people silence their difference or they get hurt because of it. 3 years ago, I told my parents I was gay. Being raised by two Christian parents, it was the hardest thing I had ever had to do. Had I been alone before or after coming out, I don’t think I could have done it without the help of my camp family.

My parents took quite some time to warm up to the idea, but until that happened, I felt alone and ashamed. I wanted to runaway. I wanted to take it all back. I wanted to pretend to be the girl they wanted. However, camp taught me that who I am is very much who I am meant to be and that regardless of how it affects others, I shouldn’t have to pretend or change. Being me was more than enough. When I was at camp, I felt no shame and I saw no judgment. When I stood up and said I was different, I knew that if the world turned its back on me, camp would always be there for me. 

Camp gave me many life long friends and role models. It also gave me a best friend away from camp that I can lean on and talk to.  My mentor and I were paired up about 3 years ago. During those 3 years, I went through many tough challenges in life and luckily, I had part of camp with me to help get me through it all. I was just starting out in high school and figuring out who I was and what crowd I would be in. Along the way, I felt lost and alone, but I’d reach out my hand and know that my mentor was with me every step of the way. When I came out to my parents, I had her there to support me and help me talk to them.

We went on tons of adventures and I was compelled to broaden my horizons and try new things. At the same time, I was encouraged to be the person I want to be, but also warned to slow down for things in life that can wait. Not many people have these amazing counselors in their lives to help them and for that, I feel so special.

Each year, I see new faces and old faces. I see the new ones fall in love with camp each day. There is no way to fully prepare anyone 100% for life, but when you have The Laurel Foundation in your life, it doesn’t seem so scary. You know that you aren’t alone and you know that you are respected, cared for, and loved.

My dream for the past 10 years has been to return to camp as a counselor and give back to campers what I was given. Camp has even shaped my college and life goals in a big way! I plan on studying Social Work or going into nonprofit in hopes I can come back and be an even bigger part of camp.

Usually at the end of camp, we all have sticks and make wishes and throw our sticks in a fire. I don’t have a stick and there is no fire, but my biggest wish is for The Laurel Foundation to grow and reach out to those that feel like they do not have a home. The Laurel Foundation is my home and I wish to keep returning and giving back to help others who have the same struggles/challenges that I do.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

2015 Volunteer of the Year

Every now and then a volunteer comes along who goes so far above and beyond, that they practically become a part of The Laurel Foundation's staff. This year's Volunteer of the Year not only donates his time at camp, but also supports our nonprofit at all major fundraisers, events, and even in the office. Whether it is running a last minute errand, helping us solicit donations, or preparing supplies for camp, this volunteer is always asking what else he could do and how else he could help. The dedication he constantly showcases is incredible to behold, and we could not be more proud to honor Ranger as our 2015 Volunteer of the Year.

It’s no wonder that Ranger is such an amazing volunteer for The Laurel Foundation- giving back to his community seems to be a part of every aspect of his life! In addition to working with The Laurel Foundation, he also volunteers as a Search and Rescue tech with the San Bernardino Sheriff Department, and  while in college he acted as the Director for Cal State Fullerton’s Camp Titan programs. In fact, it was his experience volunteering at Camp Titan that drew him to The Laurel Foundation in the first place:

“I was never in the camp world before college, but one day I was walking past a recruitment table for Cal State Fullerton’s Camp Titan and I just thought that it looked like a lot of fun. I was hooked on camp from that summer on! When a high school friend of mine posted on Facebook that Camp Laurel was looking for counselors in the winter of 2013, I decided to look into what The Laurel Foundation was all about. I was blown away by all that they do to serve children and families living with HIV/AIDS, I instantly knew that I wanted to be a part of this program. I applied that winter and I’ve been here ever since.”

Ranger’s desire to get involved and to help out in any way he can translates into everything he does! In addition to volunteering at five camp programs over the past two and a half years, he has also helped with countless fundraisers, events, and even in the office! Although most people would balk at the less glamorous tasks of databasing surveys or picking up donations, Ranger never hesitates to offer his time to any task that supports our organization.

“Getting to work on many different projects with The Laurel Foundation keeps things really interesting for me, plus its fun to get to see all the behind the scenes work that goes on outside of camp! There is so much that goes on beyond just the fun camp stuff- all year long we run fundraisers and outreach events that make it possible for Camp Laurel to stay free for all the kids we support." 

"I also really love getting to see different sides of camp by working in any and every role at Camp Laurel. Since I started as a counselor almost 3 years ago I’ve held a ton of different roles- Cabin Counselor, Relief Team Member, and Overnight Facilitator. My favorite role is probably Relief Team because you’re constantly called on to run different activities, support cabins, and help out with every aspect of camp.”

When we asked Ranger why he keeps coming back to Camp Laurel, his answer was a pretty simple one:

"I come back because even though its a ton of work, volunteering with The Laurel Foundation is really rewarding and fun. Where else outside of Camp Laurel can you get over 100 people playing games together in one place? One of my favorite examples of this was when I was in charge of putting together an all-camp Evening Program last winter. As 'Emperor of Activities' my job was to hand out points to teams who showed the most energy, creativity, excitement- basically I gave out points for anything and everything! Once the campers realized this, they all started trying to become my favorite team by singing songs about me, shouting for my attention, and even making up chants with my camp name. It was hilarious to see how into the competition everyone got! "

Ranger, you have been such an incredible asset to our organization and we cannot express just how thankful we are for everything you do! Your dedication to serving children, youth and families affected by HIV/AIDS goes so far above and beyond anything we could ever ask. Your constant energy and motivation to making a positive impact on the families we serve is an inspiration to us all! You are the wind beneath our wings and we are so happy to have you in our Camp Laurel family!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Confessions of a New Camp Counselor

Camp Laurel was such an amazing and unforgettable experience. I first stumbled upon the Laurel Foundation through an email from my college. I read the short synopsis of what they do for children affected by HIV/AIDS and when I looked more into it, I found the camp counselor position to be very interesting and something I knew I would love to do. I called six months before camp and through talking with Lauren, The Laurel Foundation’s volunteer director, got to know a bit more about the organization. After passing through two very intense interviews, I was finally accepted as a counselor at Camp Laurel’s Summer Camp program.

During camp, I felt like I got to know myself better and noticed the extent I can open up to people.  In general, I know I’m outgoing and can be crazy, but I never knew I could act like this in front of people I barely knew. I did things I would never do such as wear face paint that made me look completely ridiculous for the Halloween-themed day, dance crazily and enthusiastically, and sing my heart out which, for the most part, I only do in the shower. Also, I had to kill bugs and be the brave adult to guide kids in the dark to go to the bathroom, even though I fear bugs and get anxious in the dark. I did all these crazy things I wouldn’t normally do outside of camp for the kids. I wanted to make sure they were happy and safe.  

It is evident that I fell in love with the campers.  Every kid was like a ball of energy and sunshine that I had to keep up with! I especially loved my cabin and my fantastic co-counselor. My campers were so energetic and sweet and I believe I had my own little choir/dancers.   It was such a great feeling to bond with them, seeing them smiling and laughing. Being here confirmed my love for kids and my desire to help people, especially children. Also, I learned so much from my amazing co-counselor. I learned from her actions and the decisions she made how to be a better counselor myself and how act in any situation that may come up. All the camp counselors, help team, staff, etc. were amazing. Each one of them was outgoing and fun and gave all their energy for the kids. I admire all of them.

Overall, being a camp counselor was such an awesome experience that I can’t wait to do again, hopefully, next summer! I really loved the feeling of making kids laugh, being depended on, and being part of this family.  I really did learn so much. There were struggles during camp that were inevitable but I pulled through it, learned how to act in those situations, and grew stronger because of it. In addition, I will forever love the camp songs and miss the sound of kids singing “There Ain’t no Flies On Us” during meal time, until I hear it again.

I want to do this in the future. I want to help kids, and just help people in general. Being a camp counselor at Camp Laurel was just one of the fun ways to do this.

- Hero (first time counselor, Summer Camp 2014)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

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 to start backing up!

Translate camp applications and forms into Spanish:

¿Se habla espaƱol? 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 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 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 to share your stories!

Friday, March 14, 2014

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.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


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