In the wake of last spring's riots, Wendy Walsh--co-anchor of HBO's weekly "World Entertainment Report"--found that organizing gala fund-raisers and aerobics marathons for charity just wasn't satisfying her philanthropic bent.
So the 28-year-old Canadian native decided to take a more hands-on approach and founded L.A. City Camp, a twice yearly, weeklong day camp for disadvantaged inner-city youth. "I wanted to do something, and helping kids seemed the best way that I could have an impact," she says. "The burden of taking on gang members or fifth-generation welfare families would probably have been a bit overwhelming."
After consulting the only black person she knew--her manicurist--Walsh developed the idea for a day camp that would teach children about nature, health, art and careers.
Last August, 24 children attended the inaugural camp, which featured such activities as a recording session at A & M Records and a crash course in the triple jump by Olympic gold medalist Al Joyner. Still, Walsh says that not all reaction to the camp has been positive.
"People will sometimes say, 'Smells a little like a bunch of white, pretty, Westside girls going into the ghetto and saying let's go to Disneyland.' "
How does she answer that type of criticism?
"I tell them that if all that comes from my meeting these kids is that they will look at me and say, 'Wow, there is a young woman, a career of her own, maybe I can do that,' then I have done something."
And she is not shy about using her position as an entertainment reporter to recruit celebrity support for her work with children.
"I'm a little weasel when I interview people. If I sense the smallest bone of social consciousness, I move right in there and say, 'Can I send you a tape, you see I run this day camp for disadvantaged kids . . . ' And the doors just open up."