Camping with a Heart

Camp counselor Katie Costello with a charge at Camp Pacific Heartland.

Malibu’s Camp Pacific Heartland accepts, liberates and

transforms children at summer camp.

The Malibu Times Staff

Campers are returning to Malibu for another week at Camp Pacific Heartland’s 13th annual one-week summer camp for impoverished children who are living with HIV/AIDS, or are affected by it. From Aug. 10-16, disadvantaged children from Southern California will focus on fun rather than problems by participating in camp activities such as hiking, water sports, baseball, nature programs and creative writing just to name a few. Local celebrities who have donated their time to this cause will accompany the campers. Past guests of Camp Pacific Heartland have included Lance Bass, Chris Tucker, Destiny’s Child’s Michelle Williams and many more.

A nonprofit organization, Camp Heartland was founded by Wisconsin native Neil Willenson in 1993 to better the lives of children living with HIV/AIDS. It’s the largest camping and care program in the United States for children living with HIV/AIDS, and 80 percent of the children who attend live in poverty. Operating camps in California, New York and Minnesota, Camp Heartland draws children from 40 different states and has begun to expand internationally.

But it was David Gale who had a hand in bringing Camp Heartland to California. In 1995, David Gale, founder of Hollywood HEART and the executive vice president of MTV New Media and Specialty Films Division, turned to Heartland to address the needs of Southern California children affected by HIV and AIDS. In addition to such activities as hiking, water sports, baseball, arts and crafts, nature programs and creative writing, campers can participate in filmmaking workshops provided by Hollywood HEART’ s Movie Team. The Movie Team utilizes the film industry background of its founders, board members and volunteers to give children the opportunity to write, direct, produce and star in their very own short films. In addition to the financial contribution to Camp Heartland’s Malibu session, Hollywood HEART also sponsors MTV Dance Night, Carnival Night photo booth and celebrity visits.

The children’s health and psychological needs are also met during camp. Under the supervision and support of staff physicians, children often gain weight and return home healthier than when they left for camp. Psychological support also addresses many non-medical issues these may face. Many campers have lost parents to the AIDS epidemic, and half of them are living in guardian relations with someone other than a biological parent. Eleven percent have a brother or sister with HIV/AIDS and more than 30 percent have a parent who is also living with the disease.

The camp has also increased its emphasis on life skills and leadership development because children with this disease are living longer due to medical breakthroughs. They are offered special training to become counselors-in-training themselves.

There are only three fulltime volunteers for Hollywood HEART, and volunteers are needed for all aspects of Camp Pacific Heartland and The Movie Team, which seeks the help of professionals in the entertainment industry from screenwriters to makeup artists, cinemaphotographers to directors and actors.

More information can be obtained online at