“When I was growing up, summer camp was something I saw only in the movies or on TV,” says Lissette, reflecting on growing up in the crime-stricken neighborhood of Hunters Point. Her single mom struggled to meet the family’s basic needs—experiences such as summer camp weren’t possible. That was until Lissette’s middle school physical education teacher urged her to apply to Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) Camp and the Camp’s long-time partner, The Guardsmen, provided Lissette with support to cover her entire camp tuition.
“CYO Camp changed my life,” says Lissette of her two years as a camper, one year as a counselor in training (CIT) and two years as a staff counselor. “I grew up in a rough neighborhood and had a lot of problems at home. I was an angry teenager; I had a lot of aggression. Camp gave me the chance to be free, to be myself, away from my home issues and the negativity,” she says.
The deep connection to the place and people that she developed as a camper inspired Lissette to become a staff counselor for two summers. Through planning daily activities and fostering close bonds with the younger kids, Lissette is grateful to have had the chance to “give back what I got as a kid. Some of the campers I have helped don’t have anyone at home who hugs them or loves them. As a counselor, I can fill that need.”
Now in her senior year at Menlo College, Lissette is pursuing a degree in psychology with the hope of becoming a middle school counselor. In addition to her full course load, she coaches 5th grade girls’ basketball at Saint Peter’s School in San Francisco. When asked about the positive energy and transformative nature of CYO Camp, Lissette replies without hesitation, “It’s the kids. Each summer, I tell my campers: ‘You guys make camp what it is. You are camp. Carry camp with you wherever you go.'”