JaNai' "Pinecone" Humphrey


JaNai’ “Pinecone” Humphrey is what we call a UniCamp All-Star. She’s an all-star in many ways. She not only went to camp for 10 years as a child, but she also volunteered when she got into college, and went on to be a shining example of what it is to be a camper….and student volunteer, for UCLA UniCamp.

JaNai’ grew up primarily in Compton, California where she attended the local schools as well as King Drew Magnet High School. As a child, she was a member of Compton Campfire for Boys and Girls. It was here where an enthusiastic group of Student Volunteers from UCLA came to speak about UCLA UniCamp, a summer camp made specifically for them.

Their enthusiasm was one of the things she remembered the most, and it would be a recurring theme in her recollections.

A lot of the kids from the center were signing up for camp, including her cousin, Lakeisha, aka “Lucky.” It was therefore a sure bet that JaNai’ would sign up too. That summer, they all headed off to UCLA UniCamp. JaNai’ was 8 years old.JaNai

Obviously, UniCamp did something for the two cousins, because they would continue to attend UniCamp for the next 10 years! Pinecone and Lucky became fixtures, those kids you expect to and look forward to seeing every summer. The kids that already know all the rules, know where everything is at camp, and know all the counselors. Eventually, a deeper relationship between these campers and counselors can flourish, forming a relationship that transcends the summer.

Every year in the fall she was sure to attend the annual camper/counselor reunion which would take place on the UCLA Campus- this was what she would look forward to every year. Beyond just the personal relationships that formed for this returning camper, it was the prospect of college that excited her most as a youngster.

“As an adolescent my biggest thing was college. UniCamp made a really huge impression in terms of me thinking about going to college. I was able to picture what everyone in my family and neighborhood was talking about. I was able to see it first hand, see the dorms, see the campus, put a picture to what everyone told me about growing up. As a youngster, this was the lasting impression of UniCamp: college.”

After several years as a younger camper, JaNai’ turned 14 and eligible for UniCamp’s high school adventure program, W.A.L.L., which consists of a 4 day, 26 mile hike. JaNai’ never really considered herself the adventurous type of girl. Not to be understated, the W.A.L.L. program was tough. You had to carry a huge pack on your back with all your supplies for the 4 days, you had to learn how to set up your tents, cook your own food and get along with a bunch of other co-ed teens. W.A.L.L. wasn’t exactly something she was looking forward to, but she went year after year, until she graduated from high school, “because [she] wanted to see the counselors.” As JaNai’ put it:

“As a teenager it was WALL that made a lasting impression – perseverance, determination. It really put me to the test. We got lost, it was so so hard, it was heavy- it is supposed to be a metaphor for real life, and it was! It left scars on me, a lasting impression."
After 10 years of camp, it came time for JaNai’ and her cousin to leave UniCamp because they had reached that dreaded age of 18. Fortunately, all the student volunteers they had grown so close to encouraged them to become volunteers.
“I always thought that being a counselor was interesting and I had reached the pinnacle of camping. I only did UniCamp for the people, I really didn’t love camping or even the W.A.L.L. hike, I just wanted to hang out with the people. I did W.A.L.L. for 3 years just b/c I wanted to be with my friends and the counselors, and I loved the activities and all the fun we had together. It was a way to get away from home.”
Pinecone had now been accepted into Berkeley for her undergraduate education, and since she would be in Los Angeles for the summer, she was able to sign up as a counselor for UCLA UniCamp. At 18, she evolved into the next step in UniCamp’s “Continuum of Care,” a Student Volunteer. She would be a co-counselor with Daniel “Superchunk” Tcruz and in the process become lifelong friends. In fact, in her many years at UniCamp, JaNai’ found more than a few lifetime friends. Gonzo helped her with a loan for law school, Shamrock and Tigger, two former counselors, now successful lawyers, helped her with personal reference letters and recommendations to law school. Buster and Treeboy made arrangements for her to come to Los Angeles to visit family when she didn’t have the cash as a college student. She still talks regularly to Gilligan, another camper turned counselor, Alabama, Sleepy, Sushi and Crocket. The names may seem funny, but the relationships are real, and the friendships she maintains with those she met through UniCamp have been among JaNai’s most supportive, fruitful and endearing.

Her fondest memories of camp involve the campsite, “There was a stream right by our A-frames –The bunks were outside and I remember hearing the stream. We could see the trout swimming through the stream…..and we were allowed to catch them but not eat them. We would look at them and release them back.” In terms of a lasting legacy that UniCamp may have left, that is a lot more complex, and it changes as she gets older.

“I didn’t know at first. As I got older and when I came back as a counselor they would tell me I was an icon of sorts. I was supposed to be exactly what this camp was for. Take kids from the inner city and expose them to new things, etc. It works- I am a walking testament to UniCamp and the fact that it really does work. It actually does make a difference. When you take time out of your busy schedules to volunteer this really does work.

It was almost like osmosis- just being around this environment year after year, I just wanted to be like that. Their college talk, the way they spoke, learning college terms, being around that kind of environment, the positivity. The reunion was so very important to have on the campus so the kids could actually see what this college thing is. UniCamp was a right of passage for me. It gave me the determination and confidence to say, ‘I can do that.’ Seeing so few people of color helped too. I wondered why there weren’t more people of color in college, and I thought, ‘I would like to change that.’ It gave me even more motivation to go to college; I wanted to be an example for others.”

Today, Pinecone is a student at John F. Kennedy School of Law, hoping to become a Juvenile Defense Attorney. Her life right now is pretty packed, her time divided between working part-time and her full-time schooling. Pinecone is an icon, a UniCamp all-star, and an example to all of us that this thing called UniCamp really does work.