Camp for teens with HIV/AIDS destroyed in California wildfire

Posted at 5:28 PM, Nov 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-12 22:08:45-05

A Milwaukee man who started a camp for children and teens living with HIV and AIDS is devastated by the loss of their campsite location in Malibu.

Neil Willenson started Camp Heartland 24 years ago after seeing the way children and teens with the disease were treated.

"Back in the day children with HIV/AIDS were really mistreated in this community and all over the country, so we created a safe haven for them," said Willenson. 

 For the past 24 years, those teens from Camp Heartland, now know as One Heartland, have made priceless memories at Gindling Hilltop in Malibu, through their "Hollywood Heart" program.

The week-long adventure offers the teens an opportunity to express their creative skills through filmmaking, fashion design, and creative writing.

Every summer about 80 teens attend the week-long program. Over the years multiple celebrities like Mila Kunis would stop by to lend a hand. 

"It was a place where children from across the country affected by this disease could come for a week of unconditional love," said Willenson.

But overnight, the Woosley fire raging in California has reduced the camp to rubble and ashes. 

"It was totally ravaged, two cabins remain off this beautiful hillside," said Willenson. 

Next year the program is set to hold a 25-year anniversary bash, but now the location and plans are up in the air. 

"Camp is not about the building it's about the community and when I think about my own memories, very few of them are of buildings. They were sunrise, sunsets, and stargazing. All the hugs and the community. Nothing will change in terms of the community that One Heartland provides for the kids but I think a couple years from now, there will be new memories to make," said Willenson. 

Despite the destruction, Willenson is thankful no one at the camp was injured or died in the fire.