Savannah Gilliland’s Job Takes her Deep into California’s Forests


Photo Courtesy of Savannah Gilliland

Gilliland tends to the horses at Camp Ronald Mcdonald for Good Times, where she initially volunteered with her cousin in 2016 and was recently hired in 2018.

Priscilla Baek and Tiffany Wu

Apart from the hustle and bustle of city life in Irvine, junior Savannah Gilliland has found a refreshing change of scenery working eight hours a day in the summer at Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times Idyllwild, a charitable camp nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains that provides a family experience for children who have or have had cancer. Gilliland takes care of horses and manages camp activities to bring a smile to children who have faced the worst.

“I guess it’s not a typical job. It’s not very often you hear that someone is working with horses,” Gilliland said. “I think what makes it so unique is that I never fail to have a good time and enjoy both the company of the animals as well as the people…I basically go to summer camp every day for work.”

Through her job, Gilliland has learned to unplug and take in the moment, something that can be rarely found in students her age. Instead of being glued to her phone, she sets her priorities on the children, her coworkers and horses, fulfilling her role as a camp wrangler. During lunch breaks, Gilliland connects with the children through eating together, going to the pool, playing cards and relaxing.

“I am able to connect with all my coworkers during our lunch break as well as the kids and just be in the moment,” Gilliland said. “Working with large, and at times, dangerous animals such as horses means that I have to be able to react quickly and be on my A-game in case something were to happen that may put a child in danger, and having my focus elsewhere such as being on my phone could potentially be very dangerous.”

Gilliland’s most impactful experience was when she met a camper going through chemotherapy from the same elementary school as her own. This interaction marked the moment that she began to realize the strength of these children who endured these medical challenges that changed their lives.

“I’m proud to know that her experience at her job is so unique and rewarding working with children of great challenges,” Gilliland’s mother Connie Mattice said.