Eden Gardens Foundation hosting third summer camp for local youth


Hoping to inspire youth to become leaders in their communities, Solana Beach’s La Colonia de Eden Gardens Foundation is once again hosting a summer camp retreat.

The third annual La Colonia de Eden Gardens Youth Leadership Camp will take place July 13-16 at the Whispering Winds Catholic Conference Center in Julian.

“In order for a community to work, it has to be a community,” said Chuy Duran, a junior at Torrey Pines High School. “You can’t just have one person running the whole thing. You need cooperation.”

Chuy is one of the 45 to 50 youth ages 13-17 expected to attend this year’s camp, with most from Solana Beach’s Eden Gardens community. Organized by La Colonia de Eden Gardens Foundation and funded by numerous local supporters, the camp offers attendees four days and three nights of fun and educational activities for only $30.

“I enjoy how we meet new friends and build new bonds,” said Edgar Vergara, a senior at Torrey Pines High School. “I also enjoy learning new leadership skills so we can come back and practice them here in our community.”

After attending the inaugural camp in 2013, Edgar Vergara came home inspired to make positive change in his hometown of Eden Gardens. With other local teens, he co-founded the youth group La Colonia Changers, which has since worked to improve the quality of life for residents of all ages in Eden Gardens through Photo Voice, a project that captured the positive and negative aspects about the community.

“I really wanted to help out my community so other youth around here don’t get into trouble,” said Edgar, who also helped host a town hall forum on underage drinking last year. “I wanted to encourage them to take the good route and not focus on the bad route.”

For the second year, Edgar is returning to the camp as a youth leader.

As a recent graduate of Torrey Pines High School, Thomas Quiroz will also be among 15 youth leaders. The youth leaders have had a hand in planning this year’s retreat, from arts activities to motivational speakers.

“The camp lets the kids have fun, but at the same time, teaches them something new,” said Thomas, who first attended the camp last year.

Establishing a youth camp was one of the goals of La Colonia de Eden Gardens Foundation, an organization founded by community members about five years ago to suppress escalating drug and gang violence, as well as encourage local youth to make positive choices and improve resources for residents.

Since then, the foundation has held community forums, created a community garden, launched the camp and partnered with the National Latino Research Center at Cal State San Marcos on a community assessment, among other accomplishments.

A total of 35 local youngsters attended the inaugural camp. Last year’s camp attracted 50 campers.

“Going to the camp was fun because I got to meet new people,” said Isaac Macias, a junior at Mission Hills High School in San Marcos, who is attending the camp for the third consecutive year. For the first time, he will DJ the dance.

Most campers stem from Eden Gardens, but others come from Encinitas, Carlsbad, San Marcos, Oceanside, Vista and other neighboring communities.

Manny Aguilar, president and board chairman of the foundation, said the Solana Beach organization opened the camp up to youth from other communities to stop territorial behavior.

“We want them to all feel comfortable no matter where they’re at,” he said. “This is everybody’s community.”

Encinitas resident Mia Montes has attended the camp since it first launched. As a recent graduate of San Dieguito Academy, she has since taken on a leadership role at the camp and is also a member of La Colonia Changers.

“I didn’t grow up in this community, but I really liked getting in touch with people from different communities and different walks of life,” Mia said.

“We want all communities to create a cohesive future.”

For information about the camp or to attend, contact Aguilar at mannya@sbcglobal.net.

To learn more about La Colonia de Eden Gardens Foundation, visit lceg.org.