Volunteers spend summer in community service camps

In every love story there is an obstacle. In the case of 7 year-old Deydeln, it was complete fear. During the winter session of Camp Harmony last year, Deydeln spent all two weeks wondering how he could ask the girl of his dreams to the carnival at the end of the session.

 Deydeln had unconditional support  when his counselors pushed him to get his girl.

One of these counselors was Alex Sones ’07, who encouraged Deydeln every day until he mustered the courage to ask her to the carnival. Camp Harmony is one of the summer camps where students volunteer. Completing their community service hours and working with needy children in the setting of a regular summer camp has become a common summer activity.

Along with Say N’ Play Speech Camp and Junior Blind of America’s Camp Bloomfield, Camp Harmony has coupled practicality with the fun found solely at a summer camp. Camp Harmony, part of the United in Harmony organization, gives homeless and impoverished children ages 7 to 12 a week-long overnight camp experience, using the facilities of Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu.

Students who have completed the ninth grade or above can volunteer as a counselor for a fee of $350. Almost 200 children from 10 shelters in the  Los Angeles County and the San Fernando Valley are treated to normal camping activities such as rock climbing and swimming.

“[The campers] come with only a backpack and very little clothing and [many] have never had a recreational experience,” Emma Sokoloff ‘09 said.

Emma, who just completed her third session with the camp this summer, started volunteering  because of her older brother Zach Sokoloff ’07, who volunteered for three years. She also works with the organization during the year scheduling events and holiday parties.

Reina Factor ’08, Lauren Gold ’09, Lauren Maldonado ’08 and two middle school students  also helped those in need working at Say N’ Play Speech Camp. The camp is aimed at improving the speech of children with autism, Down syndrome and Asperger’s syndrome.

Along with field trips and other camp activities, the children receive speech therapy each week from licensed speech pathologists. 

“Speech Buddies,” high school volunteers, help improve the campers’ speech with interaction and patience. Maldonado and Factor have both worked at the camp for four years.

“Seeing their progress each year is really rewarding,” Maldonado said.

Performances by the children concluded each four week session. Counselors helped the children prepare by teaching them jokes and practicing lines.

“It was exciting because I helped them,” Gold said.

Unlike Camp Harmony where campers do not have to pay, Say N’ Play costs between $2,100 and $2,600 per session, depending on the amount of staff. Cody Schott ’09 and Elena Delvac ’07 chose to volunteer at another camp. Both of them worked at the Junior Blind of America’s Camp Bloomfield. 
By keeping the camp relatively normal with hiking, field trips and overnight camping, the program aims to increase the confidence of the blind campers.