Four weeks ago, Camp Mendocino opened its doors to campers for the first time since 2019. Camp Director, Sara Richardson, reflects, “It has been such a joy to feel the spirit of Camp return to the redwoods after what has been an immensely challenging time for all of us. Seeing our campers' huge smiles as they sit around the campfire, try an activity for the first time or bond with a new friend fills me with so much hope for our post-pandemic world.”
Camp Mendocino has a 95-year history of providing youth with the opportunity to enjoy a much-needed break from city life. Sitting on nearly 2,000 wooded acres, the magical setting allows campers to connect with nature and with each other - away from technology and other daily distractions. After a year that has dramatically increased young people’s feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety, these experiences are more important than ever.
Camp looks a little different this year as staff made adjustments to follow all CDC and government health guidelines to keep members and staff healthy and safe. The site is operating at a limited capacity, wearing masks is mandated, and interactions between different age groups are limited.
Sara recognizes that the past year has been extremely challenging for all of her campers. “In some cases, coming to camp is actually the first time our youth have gathered together with peers and socialized in a larger group since the pandemic began.”
Sara and her team do not take Camp’s role in transitioning youth back to a sense of social normalcy lightly. Guided and supported by BGCSF’s team of Behavioral Health Specialists, socioemotional wellness and mental health support are incorporated into regular programming and all staff training. Campers participate in morning mindful moments designed to set them up for a successful day. We have also incorporated “wellness time” into the schedule - a daily time for youth to check in with themselves and others in their group and practice self-care.
In addition to this robust socioemotional support, campers have enjoyed returning to much-loved camp activities. Highlights include bike rides, boating, gardening and ropes courses. All these activities are led by well-trained specialists who infuse the curriculum with their own enthusiasm and positivity.
Campers’ response to returning to the redwoods has been overwhelmingly positive. Says Kelly, an 8-year camper, “when I heard we had the opportunity to come to Camp this year I was ecstatic. I was happy to see friends and meet new people.”
BGCSF is currently offering free support and training to Black-serving and Black-led individuals and organizations participating in The Dream Keeper Initiative, a citywide effort launched in 2021 to reinvest $120 million over two years into San Francisco’s diverse Black communities.
April is Arab American Heritage Month and I am excited to both reflect on what this month means to me personally and share how BGCSF and Camp Mendocino engage Arab youth and their families.
We are pleased to highlight a member of our Senior Leadership Team, Erin Gutierrez. Erin has served the BGCSF community for 15 years. Her experience spans multiple roles across the organization and provides a powerful and unique perspective on the holistic impact of BGCSF.