This was one summer camp where counselors hoped campers walked away with a souvenir of a lifetime. This was a camp where kids learned how to give back. And they didn't just learn, they got out in the community and helped touch lives.
Kids Korps camp, run for the last two weeks in Rancho Santa Fe and Aug. 11-15 in Solana Beach, is celebrating its 13th summer of teaching kids ages 5-18 about community service.
"We instill in them the sprit of giving," said Robin Chappelow, program director.
Kids Korps is active not just in the summer but year-round, offering 1,200 hands-on service opportunities a year. The youth service organization was started by a couple of San Diego moms, Joanie Wafer and Dawn Lehman, in 1995. From humble beginnings visiting nursing homes and serving food to the needy, Kids Korps has grown to have chapters in eight states with 17,000 members contributing over 560,000 hours of caring and service in their communities.
Members in San Diego's Kid Korps have been everywhere, from removing invasive plants in Carmel Valley's Gonzales Canyon to building homes with Habitat for Humanity. Kids help out with the Special Olympics, homeless shelters, children's hospitals, animal shelters and environmental organizations.
For the summer camp week, kids got to do a little bit of everything. The 21 participants and 13 youth counselors didn't spend too much time at the Rancho Santa Fe Community Center as they were often out in the field. Each had a notebook to log their reflections on their week of community service.
"When I volunteer, I feel like a teacher," wrote Rebecca Xavier, a 7-year-old from Rancho Santa Fe.
"Volunteering is important because it helps the world," wrote Annette Logan, an 11-year-old from Carmel Valley.
They visited the San Diego River Valley Conservancy, where they learned about ecosystems and helped remove invasive ice plants in Del Mar's Crest Canyon. At St. Leo's Head Start Preschool in Solana Beach, the campers worked with kids learning the English language and each donated their favorite picture book to the school.
They went to the Silverado Senior Living Center in Encinitas, where they learned about how to relate and respect seniors who are dealing with Alzheimer's.
The group played a rousing game of bingo for prizes.
"A 6-year-old and a 96-year-old both really want to win a candy bar," Chappelow said.
Each camper was paired with a senior and they conducted little interviews to be put in their notebook. While some of the seniors struggled with trying to remember a childhood memory, most easily answered the kids other questions, like what their favorite color was or their favorite flavor of ice cream.
They also gave advise to the youngsters, one woman's: "Change ideas and have lots of fun."
Some of the reflections in their notebook were very moving.
"Lulu was very sweet and I felt bad for her because she seemed lonely," wrote Mirai Patel, age 8.
At the San Diego Food Bank, they helped sort and pack 5,000 pounds of food for low-income pregnant women.
Mitesh Patel, who will be a freshman at Torrey Pines in the fall, said that the food bank was his favorite cause. Patel was doing Kids Korps for the first time, along with his two sisters and cousins visiting from Orange County.
"It's good in every way and it's fun," Patel said.
When the kids weren't in the field, they were working on service projects at the community center such as making blankets and painting posters. In the courtyard of the community center on Friday, the kids painted encouraging posters for Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation walks to be held in November. "Keep on Going!" read one bright and colorful sign and kids tried unsuccessfully to keep paint off of themselves.
As they finished with their banners, Paws'itive Teams, a service dog organization based in San Diego, paid the campers a visit.
"This is our first experience with them," said Chappelow. "We want to expose the children to what people with physical challenges go through and teach them to be compassionate and understanding."
A group of labradors and one huge, shaggy goldendoodle (part golden retriever, part standard poodle) named Macaroni came happily down into the courtyard with their trainers.
'We're so impressed with what you've been doing, it's incredible," trainer Carol Davis told the Kids Korps. "We really admire you so much."
Davis explained that their dogs are volunteers too, just like the kids. The dogs are trained as early as 7 weeks old to help out in many ways from picking up and carrying items to helping kids with developmental disabilities learn to speak clearly by interacting with the dogs. Four groups of campers got the chance to work with the amazing dogs in the gym, learning tricks to show off to the rest of the groups in kind of an impromptu dog talent show.
While this week marks the end of the camp's run in Rancho Santa Fe, there is one remaining Kids Korps camp this summer. The camp will be held Aug. 11-15 at the La Colonia Community Center in Solana Beach. Campers will participate in daily service activities from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those interested can call (858) 259-3602 or visit
for more information.