Happy Trails for Kids Lets Foster Kids Celebrate Childhood
For most kids, summer equals fun. Vacations. Camp. Exciting adventures with families and friends.
But that is often not true for children in the foster care system. For them, summer can be a very lonely time. With the routine of going to school absent and limited extracurricular options, the sense of solitude can be overwhelming.
Happy Trails for Kids offers California foster kids the chance to experience and enjoy summer camp for themselves. All too often, kids in the foster care system are forced to grow up fast and rarely get opportunities where they can just be a kid.
The foster care system is tasked with many responsibilities, but what’s missing is the importance of celebrating and acknowledging childhood, says Lindsay Elliott, Happy Trails for Kids’ executive director and a former child welfare lawyer.
“Camp is a place where being a kid is celebrated – where having fun and being happy is prioritized,” Elliott says.
Happy Trails for Kids was founded 13 years ago by Susan Abrams. That first summer in 2009 they welcomed 60 kids. Today, the L.A.-based nonprofit serves as many as 400 campers from age seven to adulthood each year and, in addition to summer camp, offers year-round outdoor activities and events.
A top priority is sibling reunification, as more than half of children with siblings who enter foster care are separated. For some siblings who’ve been separated, attending summer camps and Happy Trails events are the only time they get to be together.
Prior to the pandemic, foster kids reported feelings of isolation and anxiety. With COVID, those struggles have been compounded, Elliott says. Recognizing the need for increased opportunities for camp and social activities, Happy Trails for Kids expanded its summer camp from two to three weeks, allowing 150 more children the chance to get those lifelong memories of camp.
Campers don’t have to age out of Happy Trails for Kids either. The organization trains campers to be junior counselors. Nearly 70% of counselors hired have lived experience in foster care.
“When kids leave camp, they have a new confidence and believe in themselves,” Elliott says.
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Executive Director: Lindsay Elliott
Happy Trails for Kids is dedicated to bringing camping, connections and confidence into the lives of boys and girls growing up in foster care. Through the great outdoors, overnight summer camp, year-round extracurricular engagements,and our supportive team of counselors, children are transformed by the power of positivity and possibility and are equipped with skills and surrounded by support to live happy and healthy lives.
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Los Angeles County has the largest foster care population in the nation. Happy Trails for Kids provides thoughtful, unique, and unparalleled programming that creates lifelong bonds between campers, their staff, and the program graduates. Happy Trails not only addresses the need in the moment, but offers long-term support and solutions for the challenges that lie ahead for children in foster care. Actual impact is tangible and feedback from the children and caregivers involved in the program is incredibly positive. From a funder’s point of view, the staff creates communication channels that are individualized, clear, and meaningful. Professional reports coupled with testimonials from program beneficiaries underscore the value and quality that this nonprofit offers to vulnerable children in our community.
Send a Foster Kid to Camp and Maybe Just Change His or Her Life
Each child growing up in foster care has their own story. And, while the trauma they experienced can’t be erased, Happy Trails is changing their personal narratives and life trajectories.
Happy Trails for Kids reminds foster children that they are resilient; they are important; and that they belong.
Each summer the nonprofit has hundreds of children waitlisted for its programs. Help Happy Trails expand its unique camp family and write a new chapter for these incredible kids.
Every $1,000 donation sends a child in foster care to summer camp and welcomes them into our year-round community of programming and support. Every $10,000 contribution sponsors an entire cabin of children.
“Long live summer!” says Lindsay Elliott, Happy Trails for Kids’ executive director.
Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s Foster
Youth Initiative Fund administered
by the Whittier Trust
California Community Foundation
Tailwinds Charitable Foundation
Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund
Salter Family Charitable Foundation
The William Gumpert Foundation
Milken Family Foundation
Barry and Wendy Meyer Foundation
Harriet Zaretsky and Steve Henry
Michael and Diane Ziering
Zolla Family Foundation
Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill
Pom Pom at Home, LLC
Corbel Capital Partners
Office of Board of Supervisor
Women Helping Youth