connect / 2021

Today’s volunteers, tomorrow’s leaders

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by UCLA UniCamp

UCLA UniCamp provides a leadership and training program for hundreds of UCLA student volunteers who form a close-knit community as they train to be a camp counselor, craft programs, and socialize over the course of the academic year. The program culminates in a week-long summer resident camping program with volunteers serving as counselors for over 1,000 underserved youth. Volunteers gain a sense of service and build lifelong friendships; many continue on to become public servants, teachers, and nonprofit staff.


In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • County of Los Angeles

What is the problem that you are seeking to address?

Volunteerism in Los Angeles (19.7%) lags behind both the state (23.9%) and national (24.9%) levels. This places Los Angeles in the 46th out of 51 of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. More significantly, there has been a steady decline in volunteerism in Los Angeles between 2012 (21.7%) and 2015. (Corporation for National Community Service) Low rates of volunteerism affects everyone in the community, from those receiving services, to the organizations providing services, and even the volunteers committing time, energy, and resources. A continued decline in volunteerism may mean decreased capacity to provide services to those in need, to keep our communities clean, or to give a sense of purpose and fulfillment by being in the service of others. Los Angeles should be a city where its residents give back to each other. We can encourage this by building community among volunteers and make the act of volunteering fun!

Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.

At a glance, UniCamp appears to be a camp for kids. However, we are as focused on the volunteers as we are on the campers. UniCamp encourages volunteerism through shared experiences and community building. UniCamp recruits, trains, and creates a close-knit group of volunteers from the UCLA student population. These volunteers will serve as counselors to underserved youth, instilling in them the same spirit of philanthropy. UniCamp recruits a leadership team of 40 students who, in turn, recruits an additional 350-400 students. Volunteers train based on the American Camp Association standards and create innovative programs in preparation for summer camp. The volunteers also attend a series of team- and community-building events that include retreats, workshops, and on-site orientation. This year, we have created a comprehensive operational guide adhering to CDC guidance and requirements set forth by state and local health authorities to open camp for volunteers and campers. We expect most, if not all, volunteers will be vaccinated. With an 87-year track record, our approach is highly effective because UniCamp is more than a one-off volunteering event. Volunteers work together closely for months toward the same goals. UniCamp creates a long-lasting effect by enabling them to have ownership of their service. These shared experiences build lifelong friendships and deepen the connections made through volunteering.

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative (expanding and continuing ongoing, successful work)

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

400
Direct impact
1,000
Indirect impact

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

As the buses depart UniCamp, there is a lot of hugging and tears. Even so, many volunteers and campers return next year. Volunteers go home with a sense of accomplishment that they successfully ran a week of camp. Campers and volunteers without many connections before now leave camp with dozens of new friendships. Volunteers keep in touch with campers, often helping them with college applications and going to their high school graduations. For graduating volunteers, many are inspired to enter public service or nonprofit work as social workers and teachers. UniCamp’s goal is to foster future generations to give back to others, build lifelong friendships and community, and have a deep appreciation for the great outdoors. As we keep in touch with alumni, we noticed that these values continue to live on as they volunteer together, go to their children’s birthday parties, and take trips to national parks. The magic of UniCamp extends far beyond one week.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

UniCamp’s volunteers return year-after-year. Those who graduated and found gainful employment take a week off in the summer. Excluding those who graduated, we have an incredible 60% volunteer retention rate. Our volunteers are diverse and come from all walks of life. Over 60% of our volunteers are Students of Color. Some are foster youth, undocumented, LGBTQ+, from low-income families, or were former campers themselves. This diversity helps volunteers become more relatable to each other and the campers they serve. We keep in touch with our volunteers. With over 15,000 volunteers since 1934, we are able to collect a treasure trove of stories, photos, and videos. We hold reunions for alumni at family camp weekends. The magic of UniCamp is that it is not a one-time volunteering event; volunteers become part of a family and a legacy that spans generations.

Which of the connect metrics will you impact?​

  • Social and emotional support
  • Volunteerism

Indicate any additional LA2050 goals your project will impact.

  • LA is the best place to LEARN