Last year I applied to UniCamp for the first time. It was my second year here at UCLA and I had heard about camp from a few friends, but hadn’t paid it much attention. When recruitment season rolled around, I started seeing posts on Facebook with a link to unicamp.org. There’s a wonderful short documentary on the website that was filmed recently and shows interviews with volunteers and campers talking about what camp means to them. As I watched it, I was struck by how profoundly the volunteers talked about their experiences and how happy the campers were to have this unique week away from home. It was clear that this camp was more than just fun and games; campers and volunteers alike seemed to feel a deep connection to each other and to Camp River Glen (where UniCamp is held).
I wanted to apply, but I wasn’t sure if I was the kind of person UniCamp would want. I am a graduate student here, which means I’ve already been through the whirlwind of undergrad where leadership opportunities can make a huge difference in an educational experience. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be important to me now, but I was worried that it would be weird. Who wants a college grad tagging along with undergrads? What if some of the other volunteers were students in classes I teach? Would they be weirded out? Would I?
In the end, I decided to leave it up to fate. If they wanted me, they’d hire me, and if not, no harm done in applying. So it’s kind of true when I say it was fate that I joined UniCamp! But that’s only the story of how I first joined camp, and it’s not the most important story. Frankly, anyone can try anything once – the real story is why that person does it again, why he or she comes back. For me, that story is about inspiration.
UniCamp inspires me. That’s a corny phrase (corny in a way I kind of dislike), but it’s true.
The people who come back year after year inspire me. A volunteer in my session last summer was back for her NINTH summer at camp – and she just finished med school! I was worried about being the only grad student, but I was far from alone.
I am inspired by the people who make time for camp in their crazy lives: the volunteers who have full time jobs or are full time students with part-time jobs and yet still carve out time and space every week to come together, fundraise and plan. And the people in the summer who regularly make the three hour drive from LA to camp just to cook meals for a few days. That’s dedication.
I am inspired by the people who make their crazy lives ALL ABOUT camp: the volunteers who not only attend the meetings but PLAN them and who don’t just train the volunteers but PREPARE them – the people who make it their business to prepare the rest of us for the job.
I’m inspired by the campers. Some of them are all too aware of the hardships they face, and others only know the life they live. But every single one of them is a caring, creative, kind child with dreams and ideas and crazy jokes they want to share. How could you not be inspired by a camper who tells you his plan to be the first in his family to go to college, or who reaches the top of the tower she thought was too high?
It is inspiring to be around these people. It makes me want to be a better person. It makes me want to build a better world. And it makes me think that it might be possible – to build a better world – by changing one child’s world at a time.
Were you a graduate student when you applied? Or a 4th year? How was your experience or different from Harlequin’s?
Like most transfers, I had a difficult time getting acclimated to UCLA. I was moved away from home for the first time, had to adjust to the quarter system, and deal with the challenge of making new friends. Back at home I was involved with a church, where I, along with other youth leaders, spent time working with kids and taught them to be leaders. Our efforts created a sense strong sense of community, a sense of camaraderie between the other leaders and lastly, a sense of family, where we felt like older brothers and sisters to the kids at our church. This was one of the things I missed most from home, and UniCamp more than filled that void for me.
I initially applied to UniCamp to get more involved at UCLA but I came away with so much more than that. I loved learning the camp songs and games that although were intended for the campers, I still sing and play with my own friends because they’re actually fun. “…And did I mention that they definitely help pass the time while waiting in lines at Disneyland?!” I loved being away from the world to camp with kids and talk about all sorts of things from heavy topics such as family issues to lighter topics such as deciding who’s hotter between Beyoncé and Rihanna. Most of all, I loved the sense of community created with my session. It’s always great seeing familiar faces all over campus, and joining UniCamp helped give me a feeling that I’m attending a small school where I recognize people all over. That is why I do UniCamp.