California – Los Angeles: UniCamp
Itzel “Izzy” Villagomez
Izzy Villagomez, or “Mustachio” as she is known by her UniCamp friends, is a 4th year student at UCLA majoring in Sociology and minoring in Disability Studies. Izzy has been incredibly involved at UCLA as the Social Media and Publicity Director for Best Buddies at UCLA, Networking Manager of the UCLA Volunteer Center’s Project SPELL, general member of Amigos de UCLA, educational coach and tutor for Pathway at UCLA Extension, and a summer counselor for UCLA UniCamp. This summer, Izzy spent a week volunteering with UniCamp in the beautiful Camp River Glen. UniCamp is UCLA’s official student charity and operates as an independently funded nonprofit organization. There are seven UniCamp sessions organized throughout summer break and in total, nearly 1,200 children from low-income families participate and become campers, along side about 450 student volunteers.
UniCamp’s goal of encouraging children from low-income families to envision brighter futures for themselves appealed to Izzy, as she came from a low-income family herself, which was ultimately why she chose to volunteer with this organization. Izzy said: “Growing up, I never had the opportunity to attend summer camp and not only did I want to experience this part of one’s typical childhood, but most importantly, I wanted to serve as a role model for younger students and teach campers about self-confidence and self-reliance.” This summer was Izzy’s second year in a row volunteering as a counselor for a small group of 11-13 year old girls. She and her co-counselor supervised their group of girls 24/7 for the entirety of the week around the campgrounds, leading the girls to different rotations and events including arts and crafts, archery, talent shows, and dance activities.
Every camp day began bright and early at 7:00 AM, unless campers wanted to participate in the morning workout, in which case they were up at 6:00 AM. Counselors are in charge of waking up their campers and getting them ready for the day, which is, according to Izzy, “actually harder than it sounds because not only is it freezing cold in the mornings (we sleep in open-air cabins) but again, you’re dealing with a group of 10 to 14 year-old girls who are bound to wait until the last possible minute to start getting ready.” Once they are up, the entire camp lines up for morning announcements and then eats breakfast and completes assigned chores. The bulk of the day is spent in a mixture of all-camp activities, rotations, and other social activities that provide entertainment and team-building opportunities. Izzy describes the week as “exhausting yet thrilling. Being in the outdoors with no Internet or cell phone reception (the horror!) is actually pretty great; it’s so relaxing and you’re really able to appreciate the simple things in life.”
UniCamp has impacted Izzy’s life in a very positive way. She still recalls her very first training meeting, feeling nervous yet welcome and comfortable meeting a group of strangers who later became her closest friends. UniCamp lets you discover your inner child as you are taught several silly, yet catchy and fun camp songs, games, and lingo. The experience allowed Izzy to step outside of her comfort zone. “At camp you meet a lot of kids who are battling so much and have such heart-wrenching stories to tell, but they don’t give up. Interacting with them really puts things into perspective since sometimes I get caught up in the materialistic part of society.” Izzy’s favorite part of this service experience was meeting all the campers. She said, “I have come across some campers who remind me of myself when I was their age and it’s exciting to listen to their opinions on certain matters, what they want to do when they grow up, their fears, and their ambitions.” Izzy loves watching the campers who barely talk the first day turn into “chatterboxes that you constantly have to quiet down” as the week progresses. Izzy’s hope is that she inspired them as much as they inspired her.
For UCLA students who are interested in volunteering with UniCamp, the application process for potential counselors and specialists opens Winter quarter, and training is done all throughout Spring quarter. Training only involves two-hour weekly meetings and all volunteers are able to participate in fundraisers and additional socials in order to get close to their session. Visit UniCamp’s website for more information.
The More You Know
|Area Served||Westwood, Los Angeles|