Hi Everyone my name is "Spike" which is my camp name or Erik in the real world.
I have been fortunate enough to be apart of Camp Laurel and The Laurel Foundation. It has changed my life.
My sister was diagnosis with AIDS and passed when I was 10 years old, She had a son Anthony who was 3 when she passed.
Living life in the real world was hard, people were scared of us. At that time people where prejudice, crude, and scared.
was like I had to be secretive about my sister having AIDS and then
secret about her passing, just to fit in. My family was devastated we
all were finding ways to cope with life and it was hard.
went on to educated women about HIV/AIDS and got connected with
organizations to learn more about the virus, and she found The Laurel
Thank God She did. Home life was a bit of a mess: my
parents were divorcing, my grandfather passed away, and I was giving in
to peer pressure. I was a very rebellious child at the age of 13. I went
to my first camp and I will never forget it.
It was a Fall Camp
Laurel session and it was a trip to Space Camp in Northern California. I
had never really been outside of Los Angeles so I was scared to meet
all these new people. I came to realize that it was so much fun and then
something happened. I got into some serious trouble. I was very
rebellious and was told I would be sent home. Scared I pleaded that I
would change my behavior. I have never been in a place where I was so
accepted, free from society and free from the prejudices of HIV/AIDS. I
didn't want to go home. Margot Anderson (the Founder), bless her heart,
saw something in me and gave me a second chance. Needless to say I was
good from then on. I even received the Apollo award, at a later camp
program, for being such a great role model for other campers. Me a
role model, yes! From that one moment at my first camp my life was
forever changed. I found a family that understood me, an extension of
who I am.
I loved camp so much that when I started to grow up and
it was time for me to move on ... I just couldn't! I decided to become a
camp counselor. Being the first or one of the first people to go from
camper to counselor was an amazing experience. It gave me huge respect
for the counselors I had as a child and all counselors. It was long
hours, but so worth it. Plus, I had the energy for it. I loved my cabin
kids and I saw myself in them at their age. Now I was able to give back
to them, what The Laurel Foundation had given to me so graciously. It
was the best time I had ever had.
But it didn't stop there! So
remember how I said my mom was a bit of a crusader well it's true my mom
suggested we create an AIDS Ride for The Laurel Foundation.
ride was suggested to The Laurel Foundation by my mom and with the help
of MANY, it was created. It was FANTASTIC and continues today as an
annual fundraiser for The Laurel Foundation! My mom rode every year up
until she couldn't and then I jumped in and rode. My first bike was a
mountain bike, heavy and rough. Every year after that first ride I would
get better things ... like a bike! It is my highlight of my year to
raise money and give back to The Laurel Foundation. Riding for the kids
is an amazing experience.
The Laurel Foundation has change my life and given me a sense of self, honesty, fun, and family.
I am fortunate to have The Laurel Foundation in my life because if they weren't, my life would be VERY DIFFERENT.
Thank you Margot for that second chance.
Thank you Laurel Foundation.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Mario and I would like to thank you for working with us on getting all that was necessary for us to attend Camp Laurel's Winter session. We loved it! Mario is looking forward to attending summer camp this year. We met some fantastic people & will keep in touch with each other.
Please thank the many wonderful people who work with you to make these camps available to kids & families that would not be able to spend time in the mountains. You all have planted seeds in us that will continue to grow as the the years go by.
Again, with much appreciation,
Rosalinda Lozano and Mario Avila
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.
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!
In that moment I couldn’t help but think of you; our amazing volunteers. You have made such an impact and become a source of joy and hope to so many of our families in a way that you couldn’t possibly know. You are the faces on their walls encouraging them and reminding them that someone believes in them. You are the memories in their hearts reminding them to laugh and try new things and to be adventurous. You are a part of them and a part of us.
The great men and women of our time were not necessarily the wealthiest or the most charismatic or even the most popular. They were people that possessed a generosity of spirit and a hopeful determination to see our world grow in love and service to others. Our volunteers are beautiful reflections of these legendary souls and we are undone with gratefulness for your commitment to The Laurel Foundation.
Next week is National Volunteer Week. We wish that there was something that we could give to each of you to show our gratitude, but our hands our empty. Our hearts however, are full of love and appreciation for you. You make a difference; you change lives.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts
Director of Volunteers
Photo by Marcella Atallah