By Sara Richardson
Camp Director, Camp Mendocino
Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco
This year, summer looks very different. For the first time in our 89-year history, Camp Mendocino’s traditional sessions in the redwoods won’t be happening. While the entire BGCSF family was saddened by the necessary decision to cancel summer camp in Mendocino, the BGCSF team immediately set about making plans to bring camp magic to our youth in the City and the Clubs.
As so many members of the BGCSF community know, Camp Mendocino is a special place. Every summer it has been a place where young people can be outdoors in nature and take advantage of different activities, all in a fun and safe environment. Beyond these experiences, Camp offers a unique opportunity for campers and staff to build a shared community. Around village campfires under cloudless skies or in the redwood canopy on the ropes course, our youth are afforded the opportunity to truly be themselves as individuals and to share the responsibility of cultivating a community they want to be a part of. They connect with old friends and meet new ones. Since the time we made the decision not to operate at Camp Mendocino this summer, the challenge became: can we safely and responsibly recreate the Camp spirit and Camp community beyond the redwoods?
Since the start of shelter-in-place in the Bay Area, our priority has been to make sure our campers and staff know that Camp Mendocino is still here for them, even if we can’t physically be together. From interactive Instagram Live sessions and TikTok-inspired Camp challenges, to virtual village campfires and Camp trivia, we have made space for kids to be in community together in these extraordinary times.
We transitioned our LIT (Leaders-in-Training) program online to ensure that all of the teens who would have attended Camp this year could still participate in the rewarding skill-building workshops that usually take place over the summer. We are also excited to be running a rigorous virtual CIT (Counselors-in-Training) job readiness program for seventeen and eighteen-year-old former campers, to boost their skills as they transition to future Camp Mendocino staff.
But the best news is this: As of July 6th, Camp Mendocino is delivering an in-person day camp in the heart of San Francisco! For three weeks, we will run a program in Bernal Heights, serving kids from across the City and beyond — and we are especially proud that eight select Counselors-in-Training (CIT’s) will join the staff team and play a critical role. As my colleague Omar Malik, Assistant Camp Director of Programs, says, “With youth not able to interact in the normal way, summer programs are now more important than ever.”
Since the pandemic began and particularly since the start of summer, talented BGCSF staff — many of whom have experienced Camp as campers, volunteers or staff — have been creating summer fun and bringing their own version of “camp spirit” to SF! It’s been amazing to experience the influence of Camp Mendocino on the Clubhouses — Clubs have been competing for the Spirit Stick with group cheers shared on live video links; kids and staff dress up for theme days; Clubs brim with creativity during egg painting and are loud with laughter as rubber duckies descend from balconies in homemade parachutes! As a 6-year-old Club member laughed, "There are SO many activities!"
While youth can’t leave SF behind to travel up to Mendocino County this summer, Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco is bringing the camp spirit to life in the City! Kids are having amazing experiences … and it just might be the most important summer we’ve ever had!!
Follow @BGCSF and @CampMendocino on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn to stay tuned in to all of the fun! Check out our blog to read more about what BGCSF is doing to support youth and families this summer.
Sara Richardson has been with BGCSF and Camp Mendocino for eight years and has served as Camp Director of Camp Mendocino since 2016. As Camp Director, Sara provides oversight of the programs and daily operations for Camp Mendocino’s 2,000-acre facility in the redwoods of Mendocino County. Prior to joining BGCSF, Sara provided program leadership to a gang prevention grant and day camp for a Boys & Girls Club in Southern California, as well as led a residential substance abuse program in Detroit, Michigan. Sara received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Women & Gender Studies, and a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, Marriage and Family Therapy.