“The little girl said, ‘My mother killed my little sister’ and we had no idea how to respond,” Wendy “Weezy” Wang said.
Wang, now the director of Cal Aggie Camp (CAC) recalled the experience from several years ago. The girl told the rest of the group that her mother gave her little sister a glass of water. It turned out to not be water, but bleach. The sister died and social services placed the little girl into foster care.
“I was shocked,” Wang said. “It’s horrible how this experience seems completely normal to them.”
A rookie volunteer at the time, Wang said that these kinds of stories are common at the summer camp, yet are the reason CAC exists today.
For youth who are underprivileged or in foster care, CAC – a unit of ASUCD – provides a camp experience that these children would not receive otherwise. CAC hopes to have a beneficial impact on the children, according to the camp’s web site.
CAC brings more than 140 children, ages ranging from five to 17, to Camp Gold Hollow, near Grass Valley, for two weeks of fun at no cost to the parents, guardians or foster parents.
The camp first began during Emil Mrak’s tenure as UC Davis Chancellor around 50 years ago. When the Aggie Bike Auction first became established, Mrak rallied for its profits to go to charity. He asked the senators of ASUCD to brainstorm ideas for money and they came up with CAC.
By 1981, funding from the bike auction stopped. ASUCD passed a quarterly $0.50 student fee increase in order to keep the camp alive, which has remained ever since. With the current budget crisis, some funding for the program has been cut.
“A portion of students fees do go to Cal Aggie Camp,” Wang said. “[However], we are always fighting against budget cuts.”
Wang said that since CAC’s conception, it has played a huge role in allowing children to be exactly what they are – children.
“The impacts [of camp] are huge,” she said. “One of the kids’ Facebook status is ‘I can’t wait to go home. Cal Aggie Camp is my home.’ [They] go through a lot of difficult things that most kids should not have to go through. So the weeks at camp, we try to let them be a kid.”
Tina Alexander, a senior sociology and African American studies double major, and mother of seven foster children, said there are some hidden pitfalls to the camp.
“I have worked with the foster care system for years,” Alexander said. “Cal Aggie Camp is a wonderful opportunity but I feel like they hold a stigma with foster care children.”
Alexander said one of her children went to camp when she was 12.
“Like many foster children, she had special needs that required specific training,” she said. “It felt like [CAC], instead of joining the parent as a team to ensure the child has a positive experience, focused more on relieving the child from bad situations and not promoting good experiences.”
Regardless, Alexander feels like CAC is a great experience for children who lack this opportunity. She said that the camp’s specificity to foster care children also makes it unique.
“There are really no camps [like this],” Alexander said. “Where can you send a kid with such high risk and special needs? We have lots of camps for kids with leukemia, kids with HIV/AIDS, kids with blindness. [CAC] is one of the very, very few that work to ensure that foster children have a camp experience.”
The foster care children are not the only ones impacted by their time at Cal Aggie Camp. Volunteers like junior managerial economics major Ashley Lee experience camp with the children, opening their own eyes to the reality these children face.
“Cal Aggie Camp is one of the best experiences I have had and been a part of since I have been here at UC Davis,” Lee said in an e-mail interview. “It is really an eye-opening experience that has the ability to change your perspective on everything you do and everything that you have.”
Lee said even though it seems like CAC is only a summer camp, it has the potential to change and impact children’s lives.
“You may think that one summer is not enough time to change somebody’s life … and I believe that CAC has aided in keeping some of these kids out of the street,” she said. “They come to camp and we offer hope, love and support and truly have a positive impact.”
NICK MARKWITH can be reached at email@example.com.