Each summer in Santa Barbara, several thousand children who can’t afford to go to camp, do go to camp, thanks to the charitable efforts of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
This Christian society operates the Circle V Ranch Camp in the Santa Barbara backcountry near Lake Cachuma. The camp takes in impoverished children from Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and Ventura counties so that they can experience, for free, a week of enriching outdoor activities.
First established in the Los Angeles National Forest in 1945, the Ranch Camp moved to Santa Barbara—its fourth new location—in 1990. Encompassing 37 acres of glorious woodland scenery, its funding is supplemented by donations from the McCormick Foundation and other bodies.
Older students are paid a stipend to live on the camp and acts as mentors to the children. With 150 children coming to stay at the camp each week, the mentors are constantly occupied with entertaining and looking after every child.
The motto of the summer camp is “Faith, Fun, and Friendship,” according to Camp Director Ray Lopez. The children’s confidence and self-esteem grows over the week, he said, as they find themselves completing outdoor adventure activities in a new setting, while making friends from different cities.
The children can try their hands at archery or painting, before rushing to swim, play soccer, or go hiking. Lopez believes that a child’s freedom in their choice of activity is key to their feeling of accomplishment upon finishing it.
The camp mentors learn how to be responsible for others, and gain valuable leadership and first-aid skills, Lopez said. This experience will help to demonstrate their qualities to future employers. The children, who look up to these mentors, learn that they too can help themselves and the people around them.
Eleven-year-old Robert said that “the counselors are awesome and the sports are great,” although he cautioned that “they need more mashed potatoes” in the canteen.