Holiday Spirit

ore than a thousand Bay Area children and teens attend camp at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills each summer, a tradition that dates back around 75 yea. Photo courtesy Hidden Villa.

Posted December 20, 2019

A summer camp where time-honored traditions meet fresh ideas
Hidden Villa offers youth a place to commune with nature — and each other

by Karla Kane

When Beatrice Piceno, 17, was planning her summer, she was immediately attracted to Hidden Villa's Leaders in Training program because she knew it would give her the opportunity to find out if working with kids is truly one of her passions.

"I came out of Hidden Villa saying, 'I really do want to do this,' most definitely," said Piceno, who is interested in pursuing a career in teaching or social work.

Leaders in Training provides youth entering grades 11 and 12 multi-week residential programs on the Los Altos Hills farm and wilderness preserve, with an emphasis on leadership and communication skills, conflict resolution and more (plus plenty of time for fun and outdoor experiences in the farm, gardens and woods). Once campers complete Leaders in Training, they're eligible to join Counselors in Training the following year, through which they gain more on-the-job experience caring for younger campers and finish up their summer with two weeks as paid counselors.

While she originally imagined herself working with teens, thanks to her time at Hidden Villa, Piceno is now considering a career working with young children. She recalled shadowing counselors and meeting one of the youngest campers on their first day, a shy girl in tears over leaving her mother and being separated from her older brother. Piceno took the girl by the hand and under her wing. By the end of camp, "that girl was friends with everyone," she laughed.

Piceno saw something of herself in that child.

"Going into Hidden Villa, I was extremely shy. I hated anything new, or anything changing," she said. She pointed to a particular moment at camp, looking at herself in the mirror, when she realized the impact the program had on her personally.

"I was thinking to myself, 'Just a couple of months ago you would never have been able to do this: not care what you looked like, not care about what anyone thought of you at that moment,'" she said.

"People (there) are all so different but they all make you feel part of the group," she said.

Clearly, Hidden Villa is more than just a place to take a picturesque creekside stroll, pick up some farm-fresh produce and snuggle up to an adorable baby goat. The nonprofit has a long history of championing cultural diversity, environmental protection and sustainable agriculture, starting with its progressive founding family, the Duvenecks, back in the 1920s. And it's especially dedicated to education. Around 30,000 people of all ages participate in one of its many programs annually.

Camp has been one of Hidden Villa's most cherished traditions for 75 years. Each summer, more than a thousand Bay Area children enroll, taking part in all sorts of traditional camp fun — swimming, singing, hiking and sleeping under the stars — but also learning about eco-friendly farming, animal husbandry, community-building and social justice.

Thanks to support from charitable donations, including a $5,000 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund, financial assistance was granted to 215 young campers so they could attend this summer. Camp tuition, which ranges from around $500 to $1,5000 per camper, depending on the program, goes toward facilities upkeep and staffing. Families with an annual income under $150,000 are invited to apply for "camperships," as the financial aid is known.

While camp programs include children as young as 5, Summer Camp Director Brenda Jones said in recent years Hidden Villa has worked especially hard to improve and expand its programs for older youth, with more direct experience on the farm and an understanding of the issues that have been essential to the mission since its early days, when the Duvenecks created the first integrated, multiracial summer camp in the nation.

"What we're trying to do this year is really work with our programs for older campers to get them more hands-on learning of regenerative agriculture principles, different social-justice approaches and how that interacts with farm systems, and how those things connect," Jones said.

Reflections are a key activity during which "campers can come together and make connections with each other and really learn from our staff, who have personal experience with things like racial injustice," she added.

"Hidden Villa is a really open and accepting place," said Alex Huerta, 17, who, like Piceno, participated in Leaders in Training this summer thanks to a scholarship. Huerta said he's done a bit of gardening at home with his parents but that spending time on a working farm was a valuable experience.

"We had the chance to pick vegetables and fruit ... growing our own food. I thought that was pretty cool," he said.

More important, though, was the sense of community he found, not only through planned lessons, such as a seminar about being an ally to the LGBTQ community, but in the informal sense of openness and acceptance among the staff and campers alike.

"The vibe at Hidden Villa is super welcoming. ... That allows for the campers to have fun no matter what, to be themselves at camp," he said. "That's a new type of feel for me."

In contrast to Piceno, Huerta said he didn't have any particular interest in working with children before participating in Leaders in Training. Now, he said — recalling bonding with second-graders down by the muddy creek — "I feel like I could see myself doing it."

Both Huerta and Piceno said they plan on applying to return next year to train as counselors.

And no matter what future career he may pursue, Huerta credits his camp experience with helping him go into his senior year with a new sense of confidence.

"Being there really changes you; it really affects you positively," he said. "It's helped me come out of my shell. I've been told by family members, by my peers, by my friends, everybody, 'I don't know what it is but there's something different. You seem more confident; you're easier to talk to now,'" he said with a laugh.

"I think it's because of my time at Hidden Villa. ... It's like a big family; it sticks with you."

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2022 Recipient Agency

49ers Academy$10,000

AbilityPath$10,000

Able Works$10,000

Ada's Cafe$25,000

Adolescent Counseling Services$7,500

Art in Action$10,000

Bay Area Friendship Circle$5,000

Beyond Barriers Athletic Foundation$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
of the Bay Area
$10,000

Blossom Birth & Family$5,000

Canopy$5,000

CASA of San Mateo County$5,000

Children's Health Council$10,000

Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto$5,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto$10,000

Counseling and Support Services for Youth - CASSY$15,000

DreamCatchers$15,000

East Palo Alto Academy Foundation$10,000

East Palo Alto Charter School$5,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation$15,000

East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring$15,000

East Palo Alto YMCA$10,000

Eastside College
Preparatory School
$7,500

EPACENTER$10,000

Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Foundation for a
College Education
$10,000

Fresh Approach$10,000

Friends for Youth$5,000

Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo$10,000

Heart and Home Collaborative$10,000

Hope Horizon East Palo Alto$7,500

Jasper Ridge Farm$5,000

Kara$15,000

Learning Home Volunteers$10,000

Live In Peace$10,000

Magical Bridge Foundation$10,000

Mannakin Theater & Dance$5,000

Marine Science Institute$5,000

Midpen Media Center$7,500

Music in the Schools Foundation$8,000

My New Red Shoes$5,000

New Voices for Youth$5,000

Pacific Art League of Palo Alto$12,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation$10,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care $30,000

Palo Alto Players$10,000

Peer Point$20,000

Peninsula Bridge$10,000

Peninsula College Fund$10,000

Peninsula Healthcare Connection$10,000

Peninsula Volunteers$15,000

Peninsula Youth Theatre$5,000

Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship Foundation$20,000

Ravenswood Classroom Partners$20,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation$10,000

Reading Partners
Silicon Valley
$10,000

ReadySetExcel$5,000

Rebuilding Together Peninsula$7,500

Resource Area for
Teaching (RAFT)
$5,000

Rich May Foundation$5,000

Rise Together Education$10,000

Ronald McDonald House$5,000

Rosalie Rendu Center$5,000

Sager Family Farm$5,000

Silicon Valley
Urban Debate League
$7,500

St. Elizabeth Seton School$10,000

TheatreWorks$5,000

UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival)$10,000

WeHOPE$15,000

WomenSV$7,500

Youth Community Service$25,000

Child Care Grants

All Five$10,000

Covenant Children's Center$10,000

Creative Montessori
Learning Center
$10,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School$10,000

Parents Nursery School$10,000

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Steve and Noel Beitler150
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Elizabeth Weingarten50
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Susan Kaye200
Barbara Kinsey400
Susan Thomas500
David Hoexter100
Susan Elgee500
Romola Georgia*
Katherine Jarvis250
Catherine Ballantyne*
Bonnie Berg500
Nancy Moss250
Mr. and Mrs. John J. McLaughlin100
Dr. Teresa L. Roberts1,000
Sally Hewlett Fund1,000
Peter B. Giles250
Kay Sabin*
Margo Sensenbrenner*
Gwen Barry*
Susan Yee*
Jean MacDonel200
The UMOC Charitable Fund250,000
Gavin & Tricia Christensen*
Jeremy Platt & Sandra Murphy300
Loni Freeman & Stephen Monismith*
Werner Graf2,000
Kim Harvey2,000
Feinstein Family1,000
Phil Fernandez & Daniel Sternbergh*
Virginia & Jim Fruchterman250
Karen Backer500
Christina Holt250
Peak-Filseth Charitable Fund500
Curt & Margaret Weil1,000
Wachtel Family1,000
Mary Lemmon25,000
Eric Keller & Janice Bohman500
Fran Codispoti250
Deborah Williams & Jean Luc Laminette1,000
Brennan Family500
Herbert Fischgrund100
Claire & Ed Lauing250
John & Martha McLaughlin200
Rob Colley & Kate Godfrey*
Glenda & Gordon Hughes*
In Memory Of

Kaye Kelley and Richard Van Dusen500
Don Kenyon50
Lew Silvers*
Larry Breed*
Er-Ying and YC Yen250
Jim and Dottie Mellberg250
E. Yanosh Alt20
Millie Rose Coldenhoff100
Edward & Elizabeth Buurma*
Leonard Ely500
Boyd Paulson Jr.*
Phillip Zschokke100
Mary Floyd*
Carol Berkowitz*
Pam Grady250
Lily & Phillip Gottheiner*
Kathy Morris*
August King*
Duncan Matteson1,000
David Mitchell*
Mason & Ryan*
Ian Halliday*
Ted Linden300
Florence K. Ho2,500
Mae & Al Kenrick500
Ray Bacchetti300
Marilyn D. Hansen200
Catherine Chow*
Emmett Lorey*
Betty Meltzer30
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
Nancy & Robert Lobdell*
Bob Kirkwood*
Gary Fazzino200
Don & Marie Snow*
Dr. Richard Greene200
Robert O. Jack500
Ruth C. Satterthwaite*
Jack Sutorius500
The Tinney Family250
Hannah & Helen Peterson50
Beverly Aarts*
Thomas W. & Louise L. Phinney*
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach*
Tom Nolan Esq.100
Bob Merkevitch*
Bob Donald300
In Honor Of

Ada's Cafe*
Mandy Lowell*
Billee Werby100
Jill & Brian Bicknell*
Marilyn Sutorius500
Emma & Rich Pompetti500
As a Gift for

Dr. Ned Lund100
Street Cleaners100
Logan Marsh & Gabby Perez2,500
Businesses & Organizations

Packard Foundation25,000
Hewlett Foundation25,000
Palo Alto Business Park*
Perry Foundation 10,000
Arrillaga Foundation10,000
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run36,900
Sponsors of Moonlight Run:
  Stanford Health Care10,000
  Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Foundation5,000
  Sutter Health/
Palo Alto Medical Foundation5,000
  Wealth Architects5,000
  Facebook5,000
  Deleon Realty5,000
  Kaiser Permanete5,000
  Stanford Federal Credit Union5,000
  Lakin Spears2,000
  Bank of the West1,500
Bleibler Properties LLC500
deLemos Properties LLC200
Johnson & Johnson Foundation1,000

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