Youth-focused programs take students outside




Camp Zap in Lemon Cove has been hosting local youth since 1999. And during the weekend of February 4-5, more than 100 kids in third through fifth grades were on-site to experience camping and ranch life for a weekend of nature, speakers, competition, and camaradarie.
The camp was founded by John Zapalac, former law-enforcement officer who previously was a Three Rivers resident deputy and Woodlake chief of police. He and his wife, Minerva, began the camp as a picnic for schoolchildren, but it quickly expanded into a weekend-long camp-out to educate Tulare County youth on the importance of staying in school, making positive choices, and respecting their parents and other authority figures.
This month’s young guests traveled from Woodlake, Goshen, Earlimart, and Goshen to attend. They received free transportation to and from Camp Zap via Tulare County’s LOOP Bus, which provides at-risk youth with free rides to free activities that connect them to mentoring and gang-prevention programs throughout Tulare County. 
The LOOP Bus is funded by Measure R and the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. It is available to community and faith-based organizations, school districts, and local government entities.
Camp Zap always has a keynote speaker who provides a powerful message. This month’s camp hosted Sgt. Tom Wright, who as a retired coroner for the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, delivered a hard-hitting message.  He shared his experiences about the young people who had made poor choices and ended up as casualties and became coroner cases.  
“Quite an eye-opener for a lot of the kids,” said Minerva Zapalac.
Meal preparation was provided by Woodlake Rotary Club and Kiwanis of Woodlake. Woodlake High and Visalia Technical Early College (VTEC) students earned community hours by volunteering to mentor and oversee the campers.
Family HealthCare Network staff contributed their face-painting talents, and many other volunteers helped with other activities such as the Viola Faubel Memorial Horseshoe Tournament.
Camp Zap is held three times a year. Besides perhaps experiencing camping for the first time, the kids also ride horses, have face-to-face visits with other farm animals, hike, play horseshoes and volleyball, and receive craft lessons. There are bunk rooms for sleeping (separate cabins for boys and girls), but when the weather allows, most of the campers choose to sleep outside in tents. 
The entire camp is free to the children. 
How to help— Each September, a  Luau is held at the Zapalac Ranch that raises funds for the Camp Zap Youth Foundation.  
“The Luau is a fun and entertaining way for the community to come together to ensure Camp Zap continues,” said Minerva.
Camp Zap has received recognition for outstanding service to youth from Rotary District 5230 Governor, Kiwanis of Woodlake, Tulare County Board of Supervisors, Assemblywoman Connie Conway, and Congressman Devin Nunes.
More students are experiencing the national parks, and now some local middle-school kids might consider careers in Sequoia National Park too. That’s the best-case scenario and, at the very least, dozens of Sequoia for Youth participants now see the local parks as an outdoor classroom as well as a place to go with family and friends and have some outdoor fun.
“From our school, we have a great view of the mountains, but many students never get to enjoy them up close,” said Mike Judson, Woodlake Valley Middle School’s Life Science teacher.  
In the 13 years since the Sequoia for Youth program was started, dozens of economically disadvantaged middle school kids and their teachers have experienced Sequoia National Park first-hand during a three-day, two-night, all-expenses-paid trip. 
“There are only four schools that get this opportunity,” said Mike. “Schools participating this year are Dinuba, Tulare, Farmersville (this will be their first year participating in the program), and us [Woodlake].”
The trips consist of three days of learning activities in Sequoia National Park with two nights in the cabins at Sequoia Village Inn in Three Rivers, courtesy of owners Dennis and Stacie Villavicencio.
On January 31 to February 2, a group of 14 seventh-graders from Woodlake Valley Middle School took part in the most recent Sequoia for Youth outing. The seven boys and seven girls where chaperoned by WVMS teachers Mike Judson and Nandina Godfrey. This is the 13th year that Woodlake Valley Middle School has been involved in the program.
“We average 14 participants per year, so that equates to 182 students,” Mike said.
The three days were spent exploring different parts of the parks guided by Sequoia rangers. Water was front and center as students learned about water-usage, the Kaweah watershed, history of water issues, and the relationship of the Kaweah River in the ecosystem. 
All eight science practices were addressed in the hands-on activities, said Mike. Students asked questions, defined problems, conducted investigations, analyzed data, wrote explanations, formulated solutions, argued findings, and communicated the results.   
“In the process of studying our local watershed, students grasp the importance of water in their daily lives,” said Mike. “Additionally, it is an opportunity to form friendships, learn about career opportunities, engage in fun hands-on learning activities, and explore the beauty of Sequoia.”  
Rangers who guided the youth took the opportunity to plant the seed of how an interest in the national parks and studying ecosystems could lead to a fulfilling career. 
“Do you like learning in the outdoors?” asked one of the National Park Service tour guides. “Then you might like a job where working outdoors is part of your job description.”
As part of this year’s Sequoia for Youth outdoor field school, students visited the Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District in Farmersville, followed by a tour of Terminus Dam and Lake Kaweah with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Then they explored the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park and took a guided snowshoe walk in the Giant Forest.
“The hope is that students take this experience and the things they learned back home and share it with family and friends,” said teacher Mike.               
Sequoia for Youth is administered by the Sequoia Parks Conservancy. Kiwanis of Woodlake, Woodlake Unified School District, and Sequoia National Park are also instrumental in ensuring the success of this program. 


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