Local camp shapes Solana Beach youth into community leaders
By Kristina Houck
After attending the inaugural La Colonia de Eden Gardens Youth Leadership Camp last year, Edgar Vergara was inspired to make positive change in Solana Beach’s Eden Gardens community. Along with other local teens, the 15-year-old co-founded the youth group La Colonia Changers and recently hosted a town hall forum on underage drinking.
Passionate about making an impact on his hometown, Edgar jumped at the chance to return to the camp this year as a youth leader.
“I was very motivated after last year’s camp,” said Edgar, a junior at Torrey Pines High School. “I wanted to come back, help out other kids and give back.”
Edgar was one of 50 youth ages 12-17 who gathered July 14-17 at the Whispering Winds Catholic Conference Center in Julian for the second annual camp. Organized by La Colonia de Eden Gardens Foundation and funded by numerous local supporters, the camp offered attendees four days and three nights of fun and educational activities for only $30 per camper — with a fee waiver for those who opted for volunteer work.
“It’s important to have a camp like this for kids in the community so instead of going out and doing something bad, we can be at camp, having fun and meeting new people,” said 17-year-old Selenne Olivares, a junior at Torrey Pines High School. “It’s an experience like no other.”
Establishing a youth camp was one of the goals of La Colonia de Eden Gardens Foundation, an organization founded by community members nearly four 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 and launched the camp, among other accomplishments.
“A few years back, there weren’t many summer programs. There were kids falling through the cracks,” said Manny Aguilar, president and board chairman of the foundation. “The purpose of the camp is to help these kids grow outside of their comfort zone, try new things, make new friends, and be exposed to a combination of academic, motivational, recreational and family-oriented activities.”
A total of 35 local kids attended last year’s camp. This year’s camp attracted 50 campers, most from Eden Gardens and others from families who have since moved to Encinitas, Carlsbad, San Marcos, Oceanside and other neighboring communities.
Campers talked about their education and career goals, and listened to motivational speeches, including a presentation by “Rain of Gold” novelist Victor Villaseñor. They also worked on arts projects, played sports, rode zip lines and more.
“At some point, my goal is that they take over the organization and continue the efforts moving forward so the people running the board now can sit back and help support them,” Aguilar said. “I don’t want to be here in 20 years doing the same thing because I think that ultimately we have a lot of capable people. My goal is to create leaders.”
Just two years into the camp, Aguilar is well on his way of reaching his goal.
Re-energized, Edgar is looking forward to making even more positive change in the community.
“Camp was fun and very inspiring,” Edgar said. “We’re excited and want to improve our community. We have to give back and say ‘thank you’ to those who have helped us.”
To learn more about La Colonia de Eden Gardens Foundation, visit lceg.org.