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Camp pushes youth to pursue college dreams

KEVIN B. KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Communications senior Maggie Guzman discusses some of the Camp Wildcat activities last night at their first meeting of the semester in the Commuter Student Lounge.
By Cara O'Connor
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Giving away a teddy bear to fellow club members and trying to organize a crafty icebreaker for the general meeting later in the evening were part of the agenda for Camp Wildcat board members.

These might seem like tasks more suited to an elementary school teacher than to a group of college students, until one considers that these are people who dedicate a huge amount of time to working with children.

Members of Camp Wildcat, a non-profit UA student-run organization that organizes campouts for local children, dedicate about 20,000 volunteer hours to working with more than 550 Tucson youth every year, with the ultimate goal of encouraging them to go to college.

"We just bring some excitement into their lives," said pre-business sophomore Manav Mehra, the club's treasurer. "It is just making them feel better about themselves."

Camp Wildcat is one of the largest clubs on campus with an average membership of about 250 students, said psychology senior Shanna Leeds, the club's former alumni relations chair.

The club's size and its longstanding presence at the UA it has been around since 1965 have brought it plenty of recognition.

Camp Wildcat is the only club on campus to have its own office in the new Student Union Memorial Center. The group was also granted storage space in the SUMC basement.

Camp Wildcat organizes eight weekend camps each school year along with dozens of day camps, where children take part in arts and crafts, sports, and other outdoor activities.

The weekend camps include "big camps" where 50-80 fourth and fifth graders spend the weekend in cabins.

Older kids seventh and eighth graders go on Adventure camps, weekend backpacking outings.

The "big camps" may have to downsize to tents this year due to the summers wildfires that destroyed the cabins usually used by Camp Wildcat, said Christi Gerstle, the Camp Wildcat day activities director.

The weekend camps generally cost about $3,000, and the campers do not pay anything. The $20,000 dollars that it takes to run Camp Wildcat is raised through the hard work of the members, selling concessions at the football and basketball games and soliciting donations from other UA organizations and the Tucson community.

In addition to their fundraising duties, the college student volunteers act as camp counselors. They try to create an environment in which campers can be themselves, said secondary education sophomore Bryan Getchell, the club's vice chair.

The campers really look up to the college counselors, Getchell said. The volunteers act as role models to the campers and encourage them especially the older kids to pursue a college education.

Camp Wildcat also runs day camps where volunteers will run fun activities for youth or take them on short outings.

Last year Camp Wildcat took children to the Flandrau Science Center, threw a birthday party for the children at the Brewster Center, took students from The Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind fishing and hosted mock camps for children in hospital wards.

Camp Wildcat began in 1965 when graduate student Richard Shogren arrived at the UA from the University of California Berkeley. At Berkeley, Shogren had been a member of Camp Cal and he brought the idea to the UA with him where he started Camp Wildcat.

Since then Camp Wildcat inspired a similar club at Arizona State University called Camp Sparky.

The first campout of the year will be in two weekends. The event is the Counselor Camp-In, a training camp for volunteers before the events with the children begin in October.

For more information visit the Web site at or call the Camp Wildcat office at 621- 7048.

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