California – Los Angeles: UCLA Unicamp

Aaron Delgadillo

Aaron Delgadillo is a new UCLA alumnus who graduated this past spring with a Bachelor of Science in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution and goals of one day becoming a professor of biological science. Channeling this spirit of teaching, Delgadillo has spent his past two summers mentoring underserved youth from the Greater Los Angeles area through UCLA Unicamp. The official philanthropy of UCLA students, Unicamp is a nonprofit that brings together 500 student volunteers and 1,200 urban LA youth each year. Through the setting of a residential summer camp, the organization provides campers a chance to have fun, learn, and grow. They not only participate in classic summer camp activities like sailing and archery but they also learn about ways they can influence their own lives and communities.

 

Though never having participated in a large scale service project like this before, Delgadillo was immediately drawn in by this organization and its mission. He describes their introduction as an act of fate. Strolling along Bruin Walk one winter quarter, he happened to be handed a recruitment flyer. Knowing he wanted to do something fun over the summer, he took the leap, applied, and got through the interview process. From a random flyer on Bruin Walk, Unicamp has now become one of the most important things Delgadillo has committed his time too. During his first year, he volunteered for two weeks as a counselor, working first with seven 11-13 year old boys and then with five 14 year old girls. Seeing the impact that both campers and volunteers had on each other, he fell in love and knew he had to return.



This summer, his second year, Delgadillo participated as an advisor for W.A.L.L., one of Unicamp’s Older Camper Programs that targets youth ages 15-17. Standing for Wilderness Adventures in Leadership and Learning, W.A.L.L. takes campers on a unique four day, three night backpacking trip from Camp River Glen to Sugarloaf Mountain and back. Earlier this August, Delgadillo alongside his co-advisor led their four campers on this 26-mile hike with each person helping to carry the entire group’s food, water and gear. Each day began with Delgadillo and his co-advisor waking up at 7am to boil water and prepare breakfast before following camp tradition of “lovingly” singing their campers awake. After taking down their campsite, the group would prepare their 50 pound backpacks before setting off on the next leg of their trip. The rest of the day then consisted of hiking, lunch and light breaks. Once at their campsite for each night, the group would set up camp and prepare dinner before dark and then take some much needed time to relax.



One main struggle for Delgadillo and many in his group was the sheer physical challenge of the trip itself. With heavy packs and hard trails, internal voices of self-doubt and high strung emotions inevitably surfaced. However, though mental and physical exhaustion were constant challenges, Delgadillo states that they all overcame them by relying on and supporting one another. By honestly voicing their own needs and genuinely encouraging each other, they were all able to come together and bond through their mutual struggles.

 

One moment that stands out in his mind is the challenging last 12 mile leg of their trip where they were delayed in the morning due to a thunderstorm. With depleted food stores and 14 miles wearing on them, morale was low as packs seemed to get heavier and each step became harder to take. Upon reaching the camp entrance, the group was greeted by the cheers and roars of  younger classic campers and other volunteers waving signs of encouragement and congratulations. Though they were not at camp for a majority of the week, the support and love from everyone was overwhelming. “We jumped and laughed and forgot all about the soreness and smelliness of our bodies,” recalls Delgadillo. “It was a couple of moments of just sheer pride and joy and it’s a moment that I’ll never forget.”



Though there was immense happiness at finally completing the hike, he especially values the relationships and community they formed with each other. Above all, Delgadillo knows his campers will “leave knowing that there are people in this world who care about them” and he hopes they can in turn make a difference in their own own communities down the mountain. Having seen the adversity many of his campers face and their ability to grow and thrive despite these obstacles, he states that he has learned to appreciate his own privileges. Though his camp experience may be over, Delgadillo believes he has so much still left to learn from his campers and fellow volunteers.

 

For those who would like to get involved in Unicamp, visit their website at https://www.unicamp.org/volunteers/.

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