California- San Bernadino Mountains

Teresa Pilon

Where did you serve?
While our campsite, Camp River Glen, is located in the San Gabriel Mountains, about 30 miles from Lake Big Bear, our campers live throughout the Greater Los Angeles area. Many of them live around South Central and Crenshaw or in East LA. They all live at or below the poverty level and/or qualify for free or reduced lunch at school.
 
Were there any moments of culture shock that really stood out?

Something that always gets me is when the campers tell me that they’ve never seen the stars before. Often even the high school aged campers will have never gotten out of Los Angeles before, so they’ve never seen the clear and starry night sky. The stars are incredible up at camp; they’re so bright and so numerous, and there’s a good chance that you’ll see a shooting star or the Milky Way at least once. Seeing the kids just look up at the stars reminds me how special and different just being outside in nature is for some of them, which is always a lot for me to take in.
Also, whether they tell you directly or not, it’s obvious that some of the kids are growing up in pretty tough areas because of the way that they act and talk to one another or about themselves. Underneath any defenses or shells that they put up or difficult experiences that they’ve had, they’re all just kids. They love laughing and playing and doing the goofy, fun, sometimes ridiculous activities and camp traditions. I love that camp gives them an opportunity to just be kids.
 
What organization did you serve with? Does it have a UCLA connection?

I volunteer with UCLA UniCamp. UCLA UniCamp is the officially designated charity of the student body of UCLA. Not everyone knows this, but they should! As Bruins, we can all be proud of UniCamp’s involvement in the Los Angeles community whether or not we volunteer up at camp.
 
Why did you choose this organization and location?

I learned about UniCamp from a flyer that I got on BruinWalk during my freshman year, and I just decided to apply. I enjoy being outside, and I used to go camping a lot when I was growing up. I’ve always loved working with kids; it’s something that I think I’m good at so it seemed like a good idea. I also love that we work with youth from Los Angeles because I really believe in serving our own local communities. Volunteering with UCLA UniCamp has made me feel so much more connected to Los Angeles and its people, and I feel more at home both at UCLA and in Los Angeles in general.

 

What lessons have you learned from your volunteer experience?

I’ve definitely learned more about how to relate to and work with other people. I’ve developed planning, programming, and facilitating skills and also learned how quickly things change and how important it is to be flexible and adaptable to any situations.
Being with the campers constantly reminds me to have an open mind and to see the good and the potential in people. Also, that we can, and do, learn so much from our designed “service recipients,” and that service learning is anything but a one-way street. We can learn a lot from children and it’s important to listen them.
I’ve also learned that it’s so important to believe in kids and to let them know that you trust and support them. We hope to empower them to better understand themselves and their surroundings, and we hope to motivate them towards higher education and service in their own communities. We also are just there to listen and play with the campers, to give them an escape from any burdens or responsibilities that they have at home, and to let them know that it’s okay to just be a kid. It’s taken a while for me to learn that simply giving a kid a chance to succeed and letting that kid know that you believe in his or her success and future can make the biggest difference in his or her life, and be the biggest step towards realizing that bright future.

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The More You Know

Population Served Low Income Children from Los Angeles
Percentage of Children in Los Angeles County who qualify for Free/Reduced Lunch 66%
Service Organization UCLA UniCamp
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