UC Davis students share how the one week camp has impacted their Davis experiences and local children’s summers
By ANNE SALTEL — [email protected]
Impromptu fashion shows, wishboat making and 7 a.m. plunges into the lake make Cal Aggie Camp a whole lot of summer fun. But for both the campers and counselors, the week-long trip to Camp Rockin U in Dobbins, CA means a lot more.
Cal Aggie Camp, founded in 1961, provides youth in the Davis and Sacramento foster care system a week-long experience of summer camp — free of charge. At camp, children from ages 6 to 17 participate in recreational activities and spend time with UC Davis undergraduate students who volunteer as counselors for the program.
With this summer being their 61st, Cal Aggie Camp has lots of beloved traditions, including the daily polar plunge at 7 a.m. Fourth-year Sonam Sehdev didn’t look forward to this tradition at first, but has come to appreciate it throughout the years.
“I remember I was super nervous to do that, because I’m not a morning person,” Sehdev said. “I was very reluctant, but we all just channeled that into excitement. We have a little chant that we sing before we dunk in,[…] then you get hot chocolate right after and we just all sit. I feel like it’s the traditions that the kids remember.”
Because of the experiences they share and the community they foster at camp, counselors become a community at UC Davis that exists outside of the campgrounds, according to Rachel Callegari, a third-year political science major. Callegari, who joined Cal Aggie Camp last year and is now the internal communications director, explained that the counselor community is a definitive quality of the program.
“[The counselors] are such nice people,” Callegari said. “That’s why Cal Aggie Camp is so successful and why the kids love coming back every year, because of how awesome our dynamic is as counselors and how much we love this camp. I met some of my best friends through camp and the nicest people in the world.”
To prepare for the summer, counselors spend time together both socially and educationally. They have bonding nights to get to know each other as friends and specific training to prepare for camp programming.
Counselors must also complete child development courses to prepare them for the more difficult situations that might arise at camp. All counselors take EDU 198 during spring quarter, a two-unit course that focuses on language and culture coaching. This education aids them in building skills to understand the complexity of adolescents who have been through the foster care system and trains them in dealing with more sensitive situations that could happen during camp.
“I’ve never taken a child development class, but I could really see, ‘Oh, this is how their mind is working,’” Callegari said. “You have to understand the hardships these kids face and that not every day is going to be all sunshine and rainbows — some people will have a bad day.”
While campers may sometimes rely on counselors for de-escalation and moderation, the kids mostly benefit from the support and encouragement that they bring. Sehdev said that the main reason for camp is to create fun memories for these kids and to give them childhood experiences that they might not be able to experience otherwise.
“I feel like [the most important part is] showing them that you’re there for them and that they have someone that loves them,” Sehdev said. “It’s just the community that’s really supportive towards everyone that I’ve seen.”
Sehdev said that the experience that both the campers and the counselors have during their one week stay at Camp Rockin U is transformative and often ends in reluctant and tearful goodbyes.
“I feel like the most meaningful thing [was] at the end of camp realizing how much of a difference you made by being there for them throughout the week,” Sehdev said. “I think that’s the biggest thing that I still take with me.”
Written by: Anne Saltel — [email protected]