Camp St. Vincent de Paul was founded in 1945 by Monsignor James E. Dolan in the Big Pines area of the Los Angeles National Forest with the idea to give poor and low-income children and opportunity to have a wilderness experience mentored by positive role models that will give them the self-esteem and social resiliency they need to empower them at school and assist them in form productive relationships with parents, teachers and peers.
Between 1954 and 1990, the Society leased several different locations for its summer camp program. But in 1990 the Society purchased the Circle V Ranch (originally owned by the Boy Scouts) in the Santa Barbara backcountry in order to guarantee a permanent location for this important program to economically disadvantaged children of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. Today, as then, the primary goal of the Circle V Ranch summer camp program is to develop a strong spiritual, physical, mental, and social character in participating youth through a variety of activities and encounters with positive role models.
25% of children in Los Angeles County, 19% of children in Santa Barbara County and 21% of children in Ventura County live below the poverty line.
Although young people constitute only 25% of the country’s population, they represent more than 40% of those people identified as low-income or poor. Indeed,
the United States has a much higher incidence of child poverty than do other Western nations, with the number of poor children continuing to increase.
These children are seven times more likely to be the victims of child abuse or neglect than their higher income peers, and have an increased likelihood of exposure to drugs, AIDS, low birth weights, poor nutrition, and lead poisoning.
Not unexpectedly, poor students are at greater risk for having substandard levels of academic achievement and as a consequence drop out of school far more frequently than their higher socioeconomic-status counterparts.
For more than 60 years, St. Vincent de Paul’s Circle V Ranch Camp has served children from the poor and under-privileged communities of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. The Camp was created to give these at-risk children an opportunity to have a wilderness experience mentored by positive role models that will give them the self-esteem and social resiliency they need to empower them at school and assist them in forming productive relationships with parents, teachers and peers.
The Circle V Ranch, owned and operated by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Council of Los Angeles, is a multifaceted camp whose mission is to serve impoverished and “at risk” children, youth and families from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties by providing innovative and enriching outdoor experiences that build self esteem and expand knowledge and appreciation of others, nature and God. The Circle V Ranch is open to people of all beliefs.
Self-esteem is a “’social vaccine’. . . that both empowers people and inoculates them against a wide variety of self-defeating and socially undesirable behavior”, (Walz, 1991).
One of the most valuable ways of instilling self-esteem into a child’s life is through outdoor programs. The hours spent in outdoor programs represent an opportunity to help children, and poor children in particular, grow and acquire important social, emotional, cognitive, and physical skills that otherwise would not be possible in an inner city classroom setting.
Consequently, the Camp offers eight, one-week sessions of resident camping, which are designed to help children learn necessary life skills, build self-esteem, increase their knowledge of nature, and receive mentoring from supportive role models, while spending time in a positive and nurturing environment. The Camp’s programs revolve around its ranch brand, the Circle V, which stresses the importance of respecting and getting along with others, even in trying situations. Specifically, the Circle reminds us to love God and the V to love our neighbors as ourselves. In addition, the Camp’s programs were created to give these young people the opportunity to explore the world around them, and interact with their peers in fun and exciting activities that allow them to just be kids for a week. But at the heart of the Camp’s program is the staff, or wranglers, who are chosen to mentor campers based on their life experiences and goals. A prerequisite to apply for a staff position is enrollment in a college or university program in order to convey these goals to our campers.
Circle V Ranch wants to provide each child with a camp experience that will enable them to grow as individuals. Our primary means for accomplishing this is through the “outfit” or group experience. A child comes to the program and is assigned an outfit (based upon their age). With their fellow outfit-ranchers they learn about the Circle V brand and what teamwork is all about. They learn the importance of camaraderie, responsibility, shared emotions and faith, pride in their group and in accomplishing tasks through cooperative effort, and fun in interrelating with their peers.
A second component to our program is the Camp’s activity periods in which campers can participate in their activity of choice, or spend time with friends and counselors who are not in their outfit. During their stay at camp, children may choose from such activities as arts and crafts, aquatics, sports, nature study, field trips to Lake Cachuma and Goleta County Beach, and campfire programs, along with lots of songs and great food. The Camp’s carefully selected staff is fully certified to facilitate specific programs, such as archery, swimming courses, and nature classes. Forty-percent of the Camp’s staff members were once campers, and also participated in the Counselor in Leadership Training Program.