So, all this talk about UniCamp. What is it? And what makes it different (read: better) than your typical summer camp?
UniCamp is UCLA’s official charity (<—- not just pulling that out of my butt. It’s been around for over 75 years). We take nearly 1500 children from low-income families out of Los Angeles and up into the mountains. I can get into the nitty-gritty details of how it was developed over time. But I’ll spare you the details and explain why it continues to be successful year after year.
UniCamp offers its campers the typical summer camp experience – they’ve got swimming, recreation, archery, dance, drama, fishing (<– when I started camp, fishing was just a couple sticks, some wire, and a piece of cheese. We’ve upgraded since then). In the past few years, Unicamp has also invested in a ton of mountain bikes, a climbing tower, sailboats, canoes, etc. Clearly, I started camp in the dinosaur age.
But what makes it different – what makes it stand out above and beyond anything else I’ve been involved with – are the outcome-based programs that the volunteers create and implement during the week. With few and limited resources. Whether the focus of a program is on self-development, teamwork, or community – everything has been methodically planned out by the volunteers. Every activity, every debrief, every conversation has the overall outcome in mind.
Think: lesson planning…for camp. As teachers, we have a standard that we hope our students master by the end of the year. We develop lessons, objectives, and goals that allow students to grasp the content and to ultimately achieve mastery of the standard. Similarly, when developing programs for our campers, we are programming backwards. We have the session outcome in mind and branch off that to create our programs. I know you’re probably thinking that it sounds like work. That the kids already spend the entire school year working, collaborating, learning…..and that we should allow them a few weeks of simple, pure FUN…
But that’s the thing about camp. It’s kinda like a ninja. The kids are having fun. They are playing games, singing songs, participating in activities. And then we sneak up on them, when they don’t even expect it, and debrief the GAME in such a way that they learn something valuable. We play games. We have fun. Yet we still manage to walk away from each moment – a little smarter, a little wiser, a little more aware.
The thing I love most about UniCamp – the people you meet through the program (volunteers and campers alike) will remain in your heart forever. The lessons I’ve learned, the memories I’ve made, and the experiences shared are irreplaceable. There’s nothing quite like that Woodsey magic. That feeling of being completely yourself. That feeling of being so emotionally safe – knowing that no matter what shit is happening down the mountain, camp is your escape. But, in some sense, it’s reality. It’s what makes me come alive. I become the ideal version of myself. Freshman year, I joined this organization thinking that I would be a positive role model for my future campers…that I’d be a mentor, someone they can learn from. Little did I know how much they’d end up teaching me…