“It’s their first time away from Los Angeles and the smog, the first time they see the stars at night, the first time they ride a horse.” That’s the way USC senior Sara Osias explained what Troy Camp means to neighborhood children.
Last summer, 168 youngsters from the USC community spent a week at the Forest Home campground, where they participated in a variety of activities (nature exploration, hiking, swimming, horseback riding, drama and dance classes) led by USC students.
The well-known summer camp program is only part of Troy Camp, a student organization started more than 50 years ago that provides yearlong programming, leadership training, tutoring and mentoring for elementary, middle and high school students in the USC community.
Troy Camp co-director Osias, who started as a camp counselor her freshman year, said she has enjoyed every minute of it, especially tutoring elementary school students. Through SMASH (Student Mentoring and After-School Help), students create art projects, conduct science experiments and get help with their homework. The program is held five days a week during the academic year at local elementary schools.
“I really like the after-school tutoring because it’s a time to work one-on-one with a kid, and you see the direct impact that you’ve made,” said Osias, a senior majoring in applied mathematics and social sciences.
Throughout the year, campers go on field trips twice a month to museums and amusement parks. The year’s highlight is going to the USC homecoming game.
“My favorite thing is the way that the kids react to USC,” said Collin Evans, Troy Camp director of alumni and public relations and a senior majoring in international relations. “They are always so amazed, especially when they’re on campus. The Athletic Department donates homecoming game tickets to Troy Camp, so we take all of the kids. We do a fund-raiser called Pass the Can where we pass milk jugs around the stadium collecting donations. Last year, we raised $30,000 at the game.”
Evans also enjoys working in Troy Camp’s specialized programming, which sends USC students to West Vernon Elementary School to teach hour-long weekly classes. Last year, Evans taught first grade science every Thursday. “How I experienced elementary school is very different from the way they are experiencing elementary school because Los Angeles Unified School District has had some big cuts,” he said. “West Vernon was understaffed, so they asked us to teach art, music, dance and P.E.”
Heather Larabee, assistant dean of student affairs and director of campus activities, explained that although she is the Troy Camp adviser, it’s the students who do all the work. “It’s one of my favorite student organizations because of the dedication of the students,” Larabee said. “There’s a huge amount of work and time that they put into it, and it’s all volunteer. The reward is the relationship that they have with the kids.”
Last year, about 300 children applied to go to camp, but only a little more than half got to attend due to lack of funding. Larabee said it is difficult to select participants because, after reading their applications, it’s easy to get emotionally attached. The chosen students are grateful, as are their families.
“We had a family come in with a huge arrangement of flowers, and they even made a plaque for the counselors,” Larabee recalled. “The family wanted to reach out and say thank you. People have attributed their success to Troy Camp. We do see campers who get into USC and then become counselors, so it comes full circle.”