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Student Stories

picture of AashaAasha (Camp Name: Ooh La La)
My name is Aasha, and being a part of Caldera changed my life. I became involved with Caldera through an acting camp that rented Caldera’s land. At that time, I had no idea that Caldera existed. Caldera was a hidden treasure that gave me a whole new outlook on life. When I stepped off of the bus, my first thought of Caldera was, “Wow! Where am I?” We traveled on a yellow bus for hours, and the first thing that I saw was youth advocates and staff with matching shirts clapping for us. As soon as you get off the bus, you experience a whole new feeling of belonging. Caldera has a spirit about it, that when you are there you can finally be yourself. Caldera didn’t change the way I communicated with others, but it gave me an outlet where I could be creative. I could display my poetry on a stage where everyone would listen.

Currently, I am attending school at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. I am in my junior year working on my psychology degree. My career path involves changing this world one child at a time. I want to dedicate my time to help any child who feels like they need a little Caldera in their lives. Caldera lives in everyone once they have the opportunity to experience it. I was a camper for years and I recently became a youth advocate. I just want to give back a little of what Caldera has given to me.

picture of JavierJavier (Camp Name: Shark)
I love Caldera, and part of that has to do with the people that make up Caldera because no matter where you come from they always make you feel like you belong. The moment I got off the bus for the first time and set foot on Caldera grounds, I felt like I was home, with people I could trust and be myself around. What I also love about Caldera is that it gives me the opportunity to express myself in ways that I had not known before; it not only taught me art but it also inspired me and showed me that art comes from inside. I love Caldera, and it is always what I look forward to in my summer. See more of Shark’s story here.

picture of CartierCartier (Camp Name: C Dub)
Caldera is like a home away from home, only you leave the material items at home—TV, radio, family, pets, the hustle and bustle of busy streets, and open noise. Caldera has become a very important part of my life planning. With every summer adventure, I realize how strong I have become, the heights I can continue to climb and my weaknesses to work through.

I realize that without a program such as Caldera, the goals and high achievements I have set for myself would not be getting accomplished so quickly. Caldera has so much to offer on all levels, and I feel grounded when I am there and throughout the year with the intensives and get-togethers with my Caldera friends. Caldera also gives us counseling support, college scholarships, mentoring and fun. What more can we ask for? I’m truly fortunate to be so involved and cared for by all. I’ve gained so many favorite artistic disciplines, so choosing just one is impossible, but I love the expression of feeling through hip-hop dance, digital filmmaking, photography and music. These are so much a part of my soulful being.

picture of RickyRicky (Camp Name: Pyro)
Before I joined Caldera, I was defiant and I had a lot of anger issues. At home I really had no one to listen to me. Without a dad, it just built up more and more, but when I came to Caldera things changed completely. Not overnight, but over the years I’ve been with Caldera, I’ve become more respectful to my mom and I listen more. At camp, when you stand up on the stage to say the announcements, everyone shouts, “We support you, we support you.” Little things like that helped me get through tough times. At home, lots of people around me are in gangs, doing drugs, having sex, getting diseases and getting pregnant. To come to Caldera is like a getaway. Listening to people my age—older, younger—around me, saying, “We support you,” it’s like the ultimate family. It’s more than I could ever ask for.

When I first came here I didn’t really think I had a future. I just didn’t think I would be successful or on top of anything. Since I came here I’ve learned so much about myself, and now I know that I can finish high school, finish college and do something great and inspirational to help people.

picture of ChantillyChantilly (Camp Name: Dreamer)
My life before Caldera was stressful. I had a bad attitude, and I wasn’t the same person I am now. Caldera has changed me. I respect people, and I have a positive attitude 24/7.
I would tell a young person who doesn’t know about Caldera that this is a place where you can get away from the stresses in life. At Caldera you can be yourself and be a part of a family and achieve goals that you haven’t achieved yet.

If I had never heard of Caldera, I would most likely not be in school; I would not have the self-esteem to push myself toward the things I am working for.

At Caldera I can walk around and sing at the top of my lungs and people don’t look at me weird. I can do anything here and people accept me for who I am. They don’t look at me differently. They don’t do put-downs. We’re just a family, and that’s what has changed me.

picture of AdrianaAdiana (Camp Name: Addy)
The first time I came to Caldera was in 1999, when I was nine years old. We used to go to Caldera every summer for a week to get away from the city. Going away to Caldera was my first experience leaving home for a long period of time. Of course I was homesick, but the support I received at camp made the week easier. By the end of the week I didn’t want to go home, and I was ready to come back the next summer.

Almost every summer since 1999, I have gone to camp, either as a camper, a visitor for a day, or more recently, a junior advocate. Before becoming a part of Caldera, I was a shy little girl who wasn’t interested in art. Caldera has allowed me to experience and appreciate all types of art. Because of Caldera, I am more outgoing than I would have been. Caldera allowed me to think differently and not be afraid to express myself. Some may say it sounds cliché, but Caldera is truly my home away from home, and the people there are my second family.

I am currently a junior at Howard University in Washington, DC I am a premed student majoring in health management, with a goal of becoming a pediatrician. I want a career where I can not only work with children, but also have an important impact on their lives.

picture of CelinaCelina (Camp Name: Dot)
I am forever thankful to one of the teachers in my middle school for introducing me to Caldera. Since that first year, Caldera has been my entire world. It will always be my home, and I will jump at any opportunity I have to go back every year. Without Caldera, I don’t know who I would be. The shy girl I used to be who never opened up to meeting new people is gone. With Caldera’s help, I’ve managed to go through high school making so many friends that I was even voted Most Friendly by my senior class. My future looks bright from here. My college dreams have grown bigger, and with Caldera I know that I can graduate high school and college and be a great asset to my community.

picture of CharlesCharles (Camp Name: Zipper)
My Caldera adventure started back in 2002, when I was 11 years old. I heard of Caldera through friends of the family, and at first I was not the least bit excited about staying in a tipi for a week with people I’d never met before. Looking back, it was the best decision my parents ever made. Caldera to me is an idea. It’s a place to go hang out with people who don’t judge, and learn new art forms and crazy-cool new ways to express yourself. Caldera is the idea that family isn’t just your mom and dad and older brother, it can be somebody you just met, and the only thing you know about him is that you both like Thai food. It’s the idea that if nobody were afraid to be heard, the world would turn much more smoothly.

Since coming to Caldera, I have met the most incredible people in my life—people that will more than likely be a part of it forever. Caldera isn’t something you go to and say, “That was fun,” and be done. At Caldera you grow together and change with each other. I’m so happy Caldera found me, for the sake of my future. It’s made me so excited for my future; I can’t wait to get started to make my difference.

picture of LuwamLuwam (Camp Name: LuLu)
I came into the Caldera program a quiet and shy girl with a low self esteem. Over the past six years at Caldera I found my creative outlet and learned to step out of my comfort zone. At Caldera, my voice is heard, and cared for, this is the one place I can be free to express myself and be supported for it. I am given the confidence in myself and courage to go after my dreams. I have never met people who sincerely care about youth as the Caldera staff does. They as a whole have done so much for me that I want to do the same for youth in the future. Caldera is where I found my voice and it is where I plan to start putting it into action.

This fall I will be enrolled at Warner Pacific College on a full ride scholarship through the Act Six. I will major in Psychology and hope one day I can start my own organization. I want to give youth the same experience I was given when I was a camper. Give them the opportunity to be creative and be supported. Caldera is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I just want to change people’s lives, and through Caldera I feel like I’ve started. I am just growing…like a little seed…into a flower.

picture of TristanTristan: (Camp Name: Rick James)
My first time hearing about Caldera was at school in front of all my peers—basically the whole urban population of Northeast Portland. Nobody seemed interested, but I sure was. The only thing I can remember from the presentation was Blue Lake and the horses. I was hooked! Around that time, it seems like life went down the drain for me. The only time I could escape my reality was when Shadow came to school in the summer to pick us up and take us away to this magical place where we were not subjected to politics, drugs or any other aspect of the concrete jungle.

As soon as we passed those gates, we were living life in its most natural state. I had never seen anything like it, nor had my peers from back in the city. To this day, I feel bad that I couldn’t take all of my friends to Caldera with me. Those same friends are now in jail, heading to jail or waiting to challenge a bullet.

I want nothing more in life than to see the youth “at-risk of us failing them” get a chance to see what I saw when it felt like my back was against the wall. If I hadn’t been at Caldera those summers I would have been nothing but a menace to society. I never had the urge to get up and get a job, or even pay bills. I thought that because of the hand I was dealt, the only option was hustle, get rich or die trying.

What Caldera did for me was show me that when you are dealt a bad hand, you just simply “go fish,” as if you are playing the card game. Just keep trying and make the cards work for you—which I did. Caldera kidnapped my “street smarts,” and in return gave me an idea—an idea of how to do things differently. For me, different is success, different is being the real me, without a mask, different is trying new things, different is being “Rick James” and leaving Tristan in the city!