If you were to tell someone that you were packing up only essential supplies to survival, throwing all 50 pounds of it on your back, and wandering into the woods, most people would tell you that you were crazy. Add on the fact that you would be hiking 26 miles, fundraising $2012, and bringing along teenagers to heights of over 11,500 feet over the course of 4 days you would get one of two responses: “You’re insane!” or “COOL!” That, simply put, is the WALL program.
There is something wonderful and liberating about being in the woods. Having grown up in suburbia, I did not have too many experiences in nature; oddly enough, I was the kid whose parents DID NOT allow him to be a Boy Scout. Most of the time, it seems like parents force their children to join these programs. As a result, I had to explore the woods from the safety of my own room, reading books like The Call of the Wild and Hatchet. Even though I consider myself to have had a privileged life, it wasn’t until college that I had the opportunity to experience the outdoors. Jumping in and out of a car to take pictures, from stop to stop, was not my idea of experiencing the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone.
In college I began rock climbing, camping, and hiking, and eventually backpacking through the WALL program. Although for the most part, I was only an hour away from my life in LA, those few hours spent in quiet were incredible. I would sit; watching birds, listening to water spill over falls, the whispering wind, and then write down my thoughts on paper, free from all the critical voices of the people I left at home. If I grew up in the inner city like many of our campers, I could only imagine feeling crushed by the constant noise and pressures surrounding me.
The need for children to experience nature is extremely important, Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, states: “Very few children in today’s society even play outside!” Call me a romantic dreamer of yesterday, but it bothers me that kids spend all day inside connected to their iPods, Facebook, and video games. What bothers me even more is my own attachment to these things! Given that a majority of American kids aren’t experiencing the outdoors, the WALL program seeks to provide the under-served an equal chance to explore in nature.
This year we will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the WALL program and plan to serve close to 100 campers. In addition, we are in the midst of an experimental summer, hosting 2 hikes during Session 3, with the goal of expanding our reach, and allowing for twice the amount of WALL campers to be able to participate in the future. In an attempt to discover the roots to this program, I sought out the first WALL Program Director, Eric “Moose” Stein, who was pivotal in the formation of the program in 1988.
How did you get involved in camp?
My roommate in college, Coyote, had done camp in the summer of 1985. He had come back telling me about what a great experience he had, as well as the amazing friends he made. I was convinced, and joined camp as a result.
Why did you develop the WALL program?
I didn’t develop the WALL program alone; it was a group decision, in large part by the camp director at the time. At this point, I was in my 3rd year in camp, and we had a junior counselor program. These kids were older, had their own unit, and served as floaters within the camp. We wanted to build a program for them that included high adventure and a challenge. Thus, the WALL program was started in 1988.
Did you have previous backpacking experience before, or did you have to learn it all from scratch?
During this time, I was a high school teacher, and had my summers free. I was an avid backpacker and so was able to train my volunteers on the various survival skills. I also became first aid certified, and would accompany the WALLers on their hikes.
What was special about WALL?
At that time, UniCamp was held at Upper and Lower Site. WALL stayed exclusively at Upper Site before taking off on their hike. However, upon return, the WALLers would join the rest of camp at Lower Site, sharing their experiences and encouraging the younger campers to participate in the WALL program in the future. As well, WALL was the only co-ed program at the time, and made for a unique experience for the campers.
Is there any advice you would like to give to the WALLers this year?
For the campers I would encourage them to “relish the challenge.” The hike may be difficult and strenuous, but that there is a lot to be gained from the experience. Despite the pain and discomfort, the hike up to San Gorgonio is not a feat to be disregarded, because there are so many people in LA that will never achieve what you will
.For the advisors, I would tell them to have fun, and that WALL is a very special experience, as you are working with kids that are transitioning into young adulthood. This is a very important time in their lives, and there is a lot to be gained by the campers from have the WALL experience.
How has the WALL program impacted you to this day?
As a counselor, Head Counselor, and member of the Board of Trustees, I would say that WALL has provided me with the most lasting memories. As well, it is something that I am most proud of, not to say that it would not have happened without me, but that it was a great niche that I found in camp. It’s not about me but the lasting memories, and the fact that the program is still going strong to this day.
I would like to wish a happy 25th birthday to the WALL program, and to recognize all the time, dedication, and money that have been given by all the WALL Program Directors and Advisors over this time. This program is truly a testament to our Woodsey values, and the experiences and memories made can only be described as “Woodsey magic.”
I leave you with the following quote, as I strongly believe in the merits of the WALL program, and the experience it provides to the underserved youth of LA.
“And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your own hands and your own head.”
— Bear Meat by Primo Levi
Sherlock “Squirrelly” Ho
WALL Program Director 2012
Whenever someone asks a Woodsey about camp, and what it means to us, we usually have an energetic response ready for them. “Best experience ever, life-changing, amazing” are some of the words that first come to mind. But, what really sets UniCamp apart from the many, many other experiences that college has to offer? What creates the Woodsey Magic? What IS Woodsey Magic? For this article, one of our Woodsey Alumni, Touchdown, lists some of many Woodsey traditions that makes UniCamp… UniCamp. -Evi
The laundry list of things that help make UniCamp what it is includes, but is not limited to:
The Woodsey Challenge – We shower before we leave for camp. We shower when we get back from camp. But while we’re up at camp, we don’t shower… Period.
Camp Names – Step one of the UniCamp integration process is coming up with a camp name. Since our initial UniCamp interview and training meetings, all of the volunteers have been called on and/referenced in accordance with their chosen camp name. Aside from Knockout, who I’ve known since 7th grade, I don’t look at any of my fellow volunteers and think to call them anything but their camp name. To me, their actual names are their camp names. To call them by anything else just seems weird. One of the first things we do once we get to camp is help the kids come up with camp names, which they are called by throughout the week. The purpose of these names is to give the campers the chance to escape their lives back at home and be whoever they want to be up at camp.
Camp Songs – We sing… a lot. We sing during dishes. We sing during line-ups. We sing at campfire. We sing enough that it justifies every volunteer in our Session being provided with a song book. Songs are generally cued by a person or group proclaiming, “IT’S TIME FOR A SONG!” To which everyone else responds, “A SONG?!” Then, just so everyone is clear, the aforementioned proclaimer(s) will announce, “IT’S A REPEAT AFTER (INSERT CAMP NAME HERE SONG!” And thus the call-and-response style song begins. Oh, and one other quirk about camp songs is that after they’re over we generally sing them “all together”, and then once more at “super-lightning speed”… Superlightning speed is where you literally sing only the first and last word of the song.
Line-Ups – We line up every day before breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As a means of roll call, we perform a different unit chant at every line-up. We sing songs. We ask campers from each unit to tell jokes, dance, impersonate volunteers and/or fictional characters, etc… We ask campers to act out which line is the shortest, longest, hungriest, sleepiest, etc… And we also read notes from the shout out box.
The Shout Out Box – The shout out box is meant for notes to and from any person/group within camp. So long as the notes are Woodsey appropriate, they are read aloud during line-up. The best part about the shout out box is that you can sign the note using any camp name you’d like. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your own. Here’s one example of a shout out box prank from Session 4: “Pterodactyl, you are soooo cute! How did you get to be so good looking?! -Pterodactyl”
Woodsey Pageant – There is one night up at camp where the campers get to dress up the counselors in whatever attire they choose. Often times this results in girls dressed as boys and boys dressed as girls. I also witnessed drawn-on unibrows and facial hair, makeup applied in the sloppiest ways possible, bras and undergarments worn on the outside of one’s clothes, etc… You and your co-counselor then model your outfits in front of the entire camp at dinner line-up… and wear them through the rest of dinner.
Camp Jams – Camp Jams are challenges that each unit gets a certain amount of points for completing. Each session does Camp Jams differently. In our session, there were about 75 different Camp Jams with point values ranging from 2 to 50. In addittion each volunteer is involved in at least one of the Camp Jam challenges, meaning that throughout the week each unit will likely approach that individual to complete his/her respective challenge. My Camp Jam, for example, was “Make up a handshake with Touchdown!” Another one of my personal favorites was “Have your unit make a whale sound for Shamu!”
Saying Grace – After a unit picks up their trays of food in the lodge and finds their assigned table, their next order of business is saying grace. At UniCamp, saying grace consists of everyone in the unit reciting a statement/phrase/chant of some sort, followed promptly by everyone banging both fists on the table and shouting “GRACE!”
Woodsey Bling – This is the name for jewelry that is crafted up at camp. The most typical forms of Woodsey Bling are bracelets/necklaces made using yarn, leather lace, and marbles. What’s the one and only rule that governs Woodsey Bling…? You can’t keep anything you make!
Woodsey Marriages – At the Woodsey Carnival campers and volunteers have the option to get Woodsey married to anyone they are bold enough to ask. Woodsey marriages are consummated using rings crafted from colored pipecleaners and beads
The Staff/Volunteers – From board members to program Directors to LSHIP to kitchen staff to specialists to counselors… The essence of UniCamp is founded upon the people who put the most time and energy into it. Period.
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I can do interfere with what I can do.”
– Everett Hale
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