I started going to Cali-Camp when I was five years old. I was in the group called “Ducklings.” I’m quite sure I was ridiculously cute. I was a camper there every summer (it’s a day camp, not sleepover) for eight years, until I was 13. I think I was about 7 or 8 in this picture. I don’t remember who the girl on the left is. I am second from the left, Anissa is to my left and my friend Jamie is on the right.
Cali-Camp is a beautiful, 22-acre place settled right in the middle of the Santa Monica Mountains in Topanga. The camp has go-karts, 2 tennis courts, two horse arenas, a gymnastics area with several trampolines, a ropes course, an archery range, lots and lots of open play space, and of course a pool – every group goes swimming every day. There is also a petting zoo for the younger kids – they didn’t have this when I was a camper but now they have a cow, a few chickens, four goats, a pig and a few ducks.
My friend Andrea and I visited Cali-Camp yesterday – for the past several years we have tried to go up for a visit once each summer. The same woman who was the director when we were kids is still there, leading songs, putting on silly hats, playing games with the kids. It’s amazing to me that she can keep any names in her head given the number of kids she’s spent time with over the years. She’s been there for so long that some of the current campers are the children of former campers!
So I was a camper for 8 years and then a junior counselor for four, and then a senior counselor for a year or two. Cali-Camp was definitely a formative part of my childhood. I met amazing friends and could be a kid without inhibition. Pam, the director, will tell you stories about how Jamie and I would stand in the middle of the parking lot on the last day of camp, hugging each other, crying because we lived in different parts of town and wouldn’t see each other until the following summer, with 15 buses full of kids waiting for us to say goodbye (this was before texting, e-mail, Facebook, etc!)
Many of my friends send their kids to all kinds of different camps each summer – they spend months researching soccer camps, and computer camps, and surfing camps, and sleepaway camps. Or they take their kids to the same school they go to during the school year, but during the summer the school calls it “camp.” Same kids, same location, same grown-ups? That’s not camp!
Send them to Cali-Camp – they will meet new kids, make new friends, and do new things, all in a beautiful natural setting that seems far removed from ‘normal’ life. But it’s just close enough.