Sunday, December 15

Submission: UCLA UniCamp offers students opportunities to grow, make an impact

From my experience, almost every UCLA student wants to “make a difference.” The more than 1,000 student groups at UCLA exemplify the wide range of passions that creates the energy and excitement that pulses through campus.

That being said, UCLA UniCamp is the best opportunity for students to grow and develop as leaders, while also actively addressing relevant issues facing Los Angeles communities.

This is a lofty statement, and without the ability to tangibly measure the success of UCLA UniCamp, we must look to the history books and the numbers.

Founded in 1934, UCLA UniCamp has stayed true to its mission for 82 years. Beyond our historic ties to campus, we also stand out from all other groups in that UCLA UniCamp was named the official charity of the students of UCLA by the regents in 1948. The program has grown to be one of the most impactful organizations on campus – recruiting more than 400 UCLA students and alumni to fundraise $240,000 subsidizing the cost of the more than 1,200 campers each year.

To this day, our mission is simple – take Los Angeles youth into the outdoors, and provide them with a resident camping experience utilizing UCLA student volunteers as counselors. That’s how the magic happens.

“Woodsey Magic” is the term we often use at UCLA UniCamp.

Though it’s difficult to entirely capture its meaning, the phrase is meant to exemplify the epic experience that is associated with a week of UCLA UniCamp. How can you put into words the joy in teaching someone how to ride a bike? How can you quantify the value of shifting a camper’s vision of their own future to something greater than they had ever imagined? How can you measure the impact of a week away from the city spent with UCLA students as counselors?

You really can’t. That’s why we call it magic.

Though our main target population is urban youth of Los Angeles, UCLA UniCamp also aims to support UCLA students as well. Serving as a volunteer for UCLA UniCamp is by no means an easy task. Every volunteer is required to attend nearly 100 hours towards training, on-site training, and then serve as a counselor for one of the seven weeks of resident camp this summer. However, no matter how much we ask of our volunteers, UCLA UniCamp always finds a way to give back just as much if not more. Every UCLA student who volunteers with UCLA UniCamp benefits from an experiential education opportunity that expects high amounts of leadership from every participant.

For example, last year, on June 17, 2015, three days before campers were set to arrive for the 80th summer of UCLA UniCamp, a fire broke out near Camp River Glen – the home of UCLA UniCamp. The next day I was told by the Angelus Oaks sheriff that Camp River Glen and all surrounding camps were going to be evacuated. Eight months preparing for the summer – packed with seven weeks of UCLA UniCamp, a family weekend for alumni, weekly overnight camping trips, staff training and more – were suddenly put on hold.

Without flinching, students were able to pivot and find a new campsite, develop an entirely new program and continue with operations as usual. Four of the seven sessions last year were relocated with only a moment’s notice beforehand, due to the size of the fire, and no sessions were cancelled. The ability to accomplish a goal, despite such unforeseen circumstances, is a testament to the tenacity and passion of UCLA UniCamp volunteers.

This year, UCLA UniCamp is working in conjunction with numerous Los Angeles-based nonprofits to serve urban youth to the best of our ability. These partnerships allow us to create customized weeks of camps to address relevant social issues today’s urban youth face. Our goal is to ensure that campers who attend UCLA UniCamp are provided a space for empowerment to propel themselves to maximum success and self-actualization.

Our campers are amazing. Last month the Daily Bruin featured Luis “Spearmint” Mendez – a former UCLA UniCamp camper, current UCLA senior and future Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan. Currently five of the 28 student leaders in UCLA UniCamp are former campers. These are merely a handful of the countless stories of positive influence UCLA UniCamp has on the campers.

However, the results don’t stop with the campers. I like to think that UCLA UniCamp proves to students that their actions can impact future generations, motivating them to commit to a life of service. Our alumni include educators, policymakers, lawyers and even one of the current Los Angeles County supervisors, Sheila “Sam” Kuehl.

Whether you are looking to make an impact in a local community or further your own personal development, UCLA UniCamp has something to offer.

I know that UCLA UniCamp isn’t for everybody, but I like to believe it is for anybody.

Starr is the program director at UCLA UniCamp. He graduated in 2013 with a degree in Spanish and linguistics.

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