Ever since she moved to one of the San Fernando Valley's worst slums in February, Kimberlee Falero has been too afraid to go out looking for friends.
"I can't really play outside because of the gang members," said Kimberlee, 12, who moved to Panorama City from Tarzana with her mother and two siblings. "I'm just scared of them."
That all changed Wednesday, when Falero and 16 other children living on Blythe Street gathered for a meeting of the street's first Camp Fire Boys & Girls club. After months of struggling for start-up donations, the group has begun bringing together impoverished children in an apartment recreation room with the aim of fostering friendships and hope.
"It's for everybody, not only for the children," said Maria Soriano, 40, one of the Camp Fire assistants. "If we help the children, the neighborhood is going to get better."
Soriano and group leader Valarie Falero, Kimberlee's mother, hope that the club's positive activities will serve as a magnet for the street's children, discouraging them from joining the notorious gangs that dominate the neighborhood.
But the dream was nearly derailed as promised donations seemed to slip into oblivion. The cost of enrolling a child in Camp Fire activities is about $54, beyond the means of many parents who live on Blythe.
"Most of these people are good people," said Valarie Falero. "They're living well below the poverty level and they can't afford to pay for the uniforms, the registration fee and the books for these kids. Even I can't pay. Geez, we can't even put food on our table half the time."
But sacrificing fashion for fun, the group's leaders decided to start the meetings anyway, even without the uniforms and only a few books bought by a handful of donations. The club is hopeful that a promise of uniforms from the Los Angeles Police Department will be fulfilled soon, but the children did not seem to care Wednesday what they played in, as long as they played together.
"It's fun," said Kimberlee, who spent Wednesday learning the Camp Fire sign, drawing a mural and eating cake. "It gives us something to do besides just sitting in the house all the time."