For many of the youngsters who in May visited Troy Camp in Forest Falls, Calif., seeing stars was a first-time experience.
More than 75 USC student volunteers took 180 local third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students to Forest Home Camp, continuing an annual tradition started in 1948. The camp provides children with the opportunity to grow while interacting with nature in a safe setting.
“A lot of the kids are from areas where they can’t go outside to play,” said Collin Evans, Troy Camp’s president of public relations. “At camp, they’re completely amazed by nature, and they don’t have to worry about violence while they’re there.”
Besides activities such as horseback riding, swimming and jumping on an inflatable “blob,” campers also enjoyed outdoor fun at night. Fifth-graders went on “outcamp,” in which they hiked into the mountains for an overnight experience, while third and fourth graders had “incamp” at the campsite with bonfires and s’mores.
Throughout the week of May 22-26, campers also took part in arts and crafts, sing-alongs, games, and music and dance performances. They participated in team-building exercises such as trust falls and “cabin time,” when they could bond with counselors and other campers while reflecting on the year’s theme. This year’s theme was “Gotta Get That,” referring to the campers’ life aspirations.
“It’s so fulfilling to be with kids that can run around all day, then can be so profound during cabin time,” said Lauren Goodwin, a senior majoring in international relations/global business. “Really getting to know them is my favorite time.”
Campers were selected based on an application and a teacher’s recommendation. Many of the children came from single-parent or no-parent households and were affected by gang violence. In the face of these challenges, Troy Camp counselors showed campers the potential benefits of pursuing higher education.
“A lot of campers initially aren’t interested in college because of the stereotypes surrounding college students,” Goodwin said. “But that changes throughout the week. They like being around us, and they see what we can do.”
Counselors and campers met for the first time during camp. Throughout the year, Troy Camp offers monthly events that extend those mentoring relationships, including trips to Disneyland and the Long Beach Aquarium in addition to activities on USC’s campus.
“The kids get a full year from Troy Camp,” Goodwin said. “And the most marked changes are during that year-long process. They come out of their shells and approach us for help. It clicks that they’re not alone.”