Camp Fire programs give young people the opportunity to be their authentic selves. For Lalo, coming to Tanadoona is when it all began.
Lalo is a hardworking college student about to begin his teaching career. He began coming to Camp Fire Minnesota’s summer camp program at Tanadoona at the age of 13, participated in our Leadership Development program, and went on to become a counselor. He grew confidence as a leader and as a future teacher, because camp taught him it’s okay to be yourself.
Read his speech from our Under the Stars event at Tanadoona on September 17, 2021, and watch his story unfold in a heartwarming video.
Hello, my name is Lalo, also known as Rio. If you look at me right now, you will see a young man who is finishing his college career at Concordia University St. Paul. I’m majoring in Secondary Education, specifically English as a Second Language, and minoring in Spanish and Sports Management. I’m part of five different clubs, like the activities board and Student Organization of Latinos. I’ve talked with Minnesota Legislatures, discussing the importance of funding private colleges. I’ve asked donors to fund different clubs at school. I am a full-time student; I work with the diversity center at school to welcome and acknowledge all students, and I work two jobs. I’m a young man dedicated yet thankful for the opportunities given.
If you asked me 4 years ago that I will do all this, I would think you are crazy. It has been a hard-working couple of years, but some of the roots to my success I owe to this camp.
In 2012, I was a 13-year-old goof ball transitioning from middle school to high school. My mom preferred me to be in a summer program to keep me busy, have fun, and not leave a big imprint on the couch (which eventually happened due to quarantine). I had heard about how fun summer camps were and one stood out. I wanted to go, but my mom couldn’t afford it. She saw Tanadoona was giving scholarships and was able to send me. During the drive, I was getting more excited and nervous as we got closer. I thought the camp was going to be filled with little kids. I remember being amazed how secluded the camp was. It was like a little nature bubble like you were up north, yet so close to the cities.
When I arrived, the counselors introduced themselves and said they were from other countries. I asked if they liked soccer, they said yes, and we began to play. As more kids came, more kids and counselors joined. We split into our groups and that is where I found other kids my age. My counselors introduced themselves. Their names were “Stitch and Jiffy,” both from England.
Many of the kids in my group were veterans at Tanadoona, but they didn’t exclude me. Instead, they made me feel as if I were part of the Doona family. They taught me the “Tanadoona ways.” How counselors have camp names, the different names of the cabins, and the cheesy but fun camp songs. Tanadoona offered traditional activities that you would see in the movies. Canoeing, building a fire and cooking food over it, rock climbing, archery, playing games, and more. I would come home dirty, and stinky (sorry, Mom). Every day was a new adventure, and I wanted to come back every week.
These experiences inspired me to join the leadership program here. I came to Tanadoona as a shy kid, trying to fit in into middle school, to a more confident teenager ready to take on high school, because Tanadoona allowed me to be myself.
The next week I started the leadership program, becoming a Day Camp Assistant. I spent the day assisting counselors and living at camp for the entire week. I was a bit nervous since I did not know anyone. Little did I know that seven of the other Day Camp Assistants would become friends who I keep in contact with today.
We all got assigned into groups and helped run activities alongside counselors, keeping campers entertained, and having fun. I knew that this was something I wanted to keep doing. The next 3 summers I kept coming and advancing through the leadership program all the way to becoming a Junior Counselor. It was at this time, when I was a Counselor in Training, that I had to pick a camp name. I wanted it to have a meaning and represent who I am. I was born in Mexico, and I wanted something in Spanish. Rio in Spanish means river. I love soccer, and I wanted the name to relate to it. The World Cup at the time was going to be in Brazil, and one of the biggest cities in Brazil is Rio de Janeiro. I decided my name to be Rio. I received a lot of praise from counselors during my training. From then on, I wanted to come to camp to not only have fun, but to become a counselor one day.
Recently I talked with my friend from my Day Camp Assistant days and he said, “I get this flashback to the pickup area when we were kids and I swear I remember you telling me it’s something you wanted to do, and I knew even then you were exactly the type of person they needed.”
I grew and learned to become a better leader by leading by example, to listen, to have patience, and to think on my feet. It allowed me to work with kids from different backgrounds, which made me enjoy my job even more. In my third summer of the leadership program, I got to work at camp every week of the summer as a Junior Counselor.
Then in 2015 as I entered my senior year, my friend from school suggested that I should log my Junior Counselor hours for the Presidential Service Award. This award is given to students who go above and beyond for volunteering in their community. I applied and received the award! A ceremony took place in my school’s theater with all the students who took part of the award. I received a letter from Former President Obama and lettered in volunteering. This led to other recognitions. My principal nominated me for the Prudential Award, I was my school’s Student of the Week, I got recognized on WCCO radio, I was featured in the Sun Sailor, a Minnesota senator sent me a letter congratulating me, and I received a scholarship at Normandale Community College.
Finally, before the summer of 2016, I was old enough to become a camp counselor. I interviewed with the camp director and got the job. I was beyond excited since the dream came true.
My goal was to give campers the same experience I had. Having an environment to learn to be themselves. To run around and have fun. To find a new hobby or activity that interests them and maybe even ignite a new spark. To helps kids learn how to have a growth mindset. To learn how beautiful our world is and how we should take care of it.
I was at Tanadoona for 7 years – 3 of them as a counselor. I met amazing campers, created new memories and friendships, and gained tools that will better prepare me for my future career as a teacher.
So, what has Tanadoona taught me? Everything. It taught me to set high goals and to work hard to achieve them. It taught me to never lose the inner kid inside you because it makes the simple things fun. It taught me to appreciate the things given to me, no matter how simple it may be. It taught me to solve any difficult situations that come across and to reflect on it.
This camp may be just a summer camp to some, but to many kids like me, it is a place where we learn, grow, and create. I am Rio, also known as Lalo. Thank you for being here tonight, and supporting Tanadoona and all the kids who come here.
Lalo & his mom (left), Lalo speaking at Under the Stars on 9.17.21