You’re never too young to become involved in community service.
This was the thought that inspired Meredith Madnick to form Camp Helping Hands in 2011. She wanted to show her then 6-year-old daughter, Shea Barnes, that there’s more to Los Angeles than perfect blue skies and fancy cars.
The four-week day camp is designed for children ages 6-14, and has locations in Northridge and Thousand Oaks.
“The mission behind Camp Helping Hands is to get young children involved in their community through service and teach them how they can have fun doing it,” Madnick told the Journal.
Eight years ago, Madnick didn’t have any plans to start her own camp. She was just looking for volunteer opportunities for kids but couldn’t find any. The idea for the camp came about because “I come from back East,” she said. “I’m a Jewish girl. [Camp’s] just part of my culture.”
Her service trip to Israel as a teenager also helped plant the seeds for Camp Helping Hands. At 15, when she was living in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Madnick applied and was accepted to be part of a sister city program with Kfar Saba, a Tel Aviv suburb.
“We would meet once a month leading up to the trip [to Israel],” Madnick recalled, “and every time we met, I loved it more and more.”
Once the group arrived in Israel, they were paired with families with children of similar age. After doing service projects, the Israeli and American kids traveled the country on a bus for two months.
“We’d plant plants or paint buildings,” Madnick said. “The majority of it was about this cross-cultural exchange. That trip changed my whole life and opened my eyes to things I’d never thought about before,” she said.
“The mission behind Camp Helping Hands is to get young children involved in their community through service and teach them how they can have fun doing it.” — Meredith Madnick
These are the philosophies she brings to the camp. Each year, each camp location has a different theme. This year’s Northridge theme is Serving What Serves Us; the Thousand Oaks theme is Bridging the Gap. Each week focuses on a different topic — Earth, people, animals and community.
“For example, for Serving What Serves Us Earth Week, we talk about the land,” Madnick said, “and what can we do to make sure that we’re protecting and conserving the land.”
People Week is about serving those who serve, including first responders and organizations that support military personnel and veterans. Animal Week focuses on Mini Therapy Horses and guide dogs, and Community Week is all about being of service to others.
“Every Monday morning, our service partners visit camp,” Madnick said. “They’ll do something hands-on and interactive and fun, but at the same time tell the campers about their organization and how it helps the community. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we take the campers and meet those same partners in the field and provide service for that whole day.”