I joined UniCamp when I was 16, and never expected my involvement to go as far as it has gone today. The year I did UniCamp as a camper I was also participating in another summer program led by Project GRAD Los Angeles. I have been through camp as a volunteer counselor for two years. I then became a Head Counselor Assistant and now a Head Counselor this year.
It is funny how things work out because this is the second year I get to lead an initiative that directly works with Project GRAD. Being able to work with kids that come from my high school and community drives me to create an unforgettable week of camp. I was once in their shoes, and I see myself in each and every one of them. Up at camp I see the potential and the incredible things all campers are capable of, and there is no doubt in my mind that they will succeed in anything they do. It is an amazing opportunity to be able to be on all sides of camp, but it has felt even better knowing I am directly impacting kids just like me.
Red is a fourth-year political science major/education minor and Head Counselor of Session 2 (2016).
Compiled by: Viridiana “Chancla” Flores – UCLA ’16
by Brian “Rocket” Mahler
Introduction: In 2014 and 2015, I took part in UniCamp’s revived “Adopt a Session – Woodsey Mentor” program. Ideally, this program would consist of UniCamp alumni being “adopted” by sessions at the beginning of each camp year, with those alumni attending a couple training meetings, sharing their past experiences, and learning how camp has evolved. We haven’t reached this ideal yet, with this program having been limited to speaking to sessions the night before they left for camp. What follows is a version of the speech I’ve given. My hope is that fellow alumni who want to reconnect with camp will sign up to be this year’s Woodsey Mentors, with UniCamp ready to go with session adoptions before training begins!
Speech: Thank you for adopting me as your session’s “Woodsey Mentor,” even if it’s only for tonight. I first learned about UniCamp in 1993 when I was a freshman at UCLA. I was still figuring out the campus and my place in it when I saw a flyer advertising “Woodsey Winterland,” which was a camp orientation held in the woods over a weekend. A couple weeks later, I found myself at Camp Singing Pines, a campsite that UniCamp rented from the Girl Scouts which was located in hills of the Angeles National Forest.
During the first day, I learned all about woodseys and biffies, I chose my camp name, and I was really excited to apply as a counselor in the upcoming spring. During the night, it actually started to snow, and I convinced a fellow freshman to venture out into the woods with me. While walking through the “winterland” of camp, we came across a shed that held some plexiglass, which we borrowed and turned into a makeshift sled. This is awesome, I remember thinking. However, during breakfast the next day, the camp proprietor announced that a hooligan among us had damaged Girl Scout property – the plexiglass. This sucks, I remember thinking. At that moment I really did think that my days as “Rocket” were over before they ever really began.
Luckily, my apologies and ten dollars were accepted, and I went on to spend five summers at UniCamp. I was a counselor for my first two years, followed by being an HCA and then an HC over my last two years. After graduating, I returned to camp for one final year to work on staff, first serving as nature specialist before joining an elite force known as “bear patrol.” Following that summer, I moved away from Los Angeles and sadly lost touch with most of my fellow woodseys, as I lacked a computer or a cell phone (insert black and white reel of me writing postcards by candlelight), and UniCamp lacked an alumni network.
Although my direct connection to camp had lapsed, the spirit of camp preserved. I continued to camp and hike and volunteer for local children organizations. I also began pursuing a career in which I worked with or on behalf of children, serving as a teacher and then as an attorney. Whenever I interviewed for a new position, UniCamp and its impact on my life was one of the first things I would bring up.
In 2013, my family and I prepared to move back to Los Angeles. In the midst of this move, I contacted Mr. Woooo and asked if there was any way I could get involved again with UniCamp. Mr. Woooo replied by asking me if I wanted to join the inaugural Program Advisory Board, whose members would be UniCamp alumni and students who wanted to have a greater role in shaping the future of camp. As of now, this board consists four committees: Marketing, Programming, Special Events, and Alumni. I am part of the Alumni committee, which is charged with building an alumni network so that older woodseys (like myself) could find one another and younger woodseys could remain connected with camp. To build this network, we’ve led a few activities, including a beach bonfire, a “wine and dine,” a tailgate party, and this mentorship program. And as your session’s mentor, I wanted to share on you what impact UniCamp actually had on me, which is this:
For all the things I’ve done, I have never been in the “present moment” for so long than when I was at camp. During that week, I would not think about anything other my campers and my counselors and whether they were healthy, safe, and happy. Not to go all “Maslow’s Hierarchy,” but I think camp affected me this way because it was a place where I could strive to reach my ideals.
I’ve thought of these ideals as being “the four Cs.” (1) Camping – To be away from the city and itsnoise, schedules, and smog, and instead to be the woods, among trees, trails, campfires, songs, and stars. (2) Children – To be working with young people by keeping them safe, helping them learn, and hoping that they take back good memories of camp. (3) Charity – To be able to give and not expect anything in return. (4) Camaraderie – To do all of this with like-minded UCLA students who were some of the most friendly, funny, and sincere people I have ever met.
Sadly, I’ve lost touch with most of the counselors I did camp with. But that’s okay. We had our moment, and I have my memories. This next week is your moment, as you continue eighty years of UniCamp history when your campers get off the bus tomorrow. Be safe, have fun, and, when you get back, stay in touch!”
(Special thanks to the leadership of 2014’s Session 3 and 2015’s Session 2 for letting me speak to their sessions the night before the first day of camp! Sign up to a Woodsey Mentor!)
Veronica "Veggie" Gonzalez Smith
July 18, 2016 at 10:50 pm
Hi there Rocket,
I googled UCLA Unicamp because my niece will be a Freshman at UCLA in the Fall. As an alumni, the fondest memories that I have are from being involved with Unicamp. As I read your blog, I could identify with you. I am saddened that I lost contact with a lot of my close Woodsey friends as well. For the most part, I didn’t know their real names! I only stayed in contact with a couple of them, and we still call each other by our Woodsey names! As I was reading your blog, I also came to realize that we went on those training weekends together. I think I even weaved some hair wraps on your very short hair at the time during down time! I was good at making hair wraps. Do you remember Scurvy, Bubelah, Straight Jacket, or Germ?
It is awesome that you were so involved after graduation! I would love to be a mentor, especially since my niece will be looking to be a counselor herself!
Well, it was great reading your blog and reminiscing. I’ve told my sons about my adventures in Unicamp, since there were in scouting. I wanted them to learn and appreciate nature since I learned so much from being in Unicamp.
It was great seeing your picture confirming my memory!!
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