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Around the Valley

'Different World' Star Creates a Different World for City Kids

September 02, 1993|JOCELYN Y. STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"O h, The Lord's been good to me,

And so I thank the Lord,

For giving me,

The things I need,

The sun and the rain and the apple seed,

The Lord's been good to me."

Remember summer camp?

Telling stories around the campfire and sleeping underneath the stars? The friends you made in a week, the ones you promised through tear-filled eyes on the last day to remember "forever and ever?"

Maybe it was the mountains, or the trees, or the way morning smelled up there in the middle of nowhere, but somehow when you were at summer camp, life was beautifully simple.

It didn't matter that the food tasted funny. It didn't even matter that maybe your life below that mountain wasn't so beautiful. For a week or two, you were surrounded by kids whose one mission in life was to have fun.

When he was 13, actor Glynn Turman--"Col. Taylor" on the recently canceled sitcom "A Different World"--went to summer camp and he never forgot it.

"It was something I didn't want to do. I wanted to stay in the streets. I had big plans for trouble that summer," he says now.

But his mom knew that the streets of Harlem could not give him what camp could: a different environment, a chance to breathe, a chance to dream.

"It was a saving grace experience," said Turman, whose life took a turn for the better that summer.

And now that he's grown, Turman is still spending time with kids at camp, only these days he owns it.

For the second year, Turman and his wife Jo-An have invited a multicultural group of children to their ranch in Lake Hughes for Camp Gid-d-up. It's a summer camp for kids who city youth center counselors figure should be exposed to a "different world."

Against a deep blue sky and mountains that look like the painted backdrop for a Western movie, the kids have the run of the ranch. They ride horses, sleep in a barn (minus the hay and farm animals), walk among the peach orchards, catch lizards, and swim in the ranch's swimming hole.

"We get to do things we could never do at home," said 10-year-old Cynthia of La Puente, who came with her brother Johnny. Cynthia's talk of growing up to be "somebody who helps people get into programs to get off drugs" speaks volumes about her everyday life. She doesn't, she stressed, want to be a prostitute.

But that seriousness melts into a bright smile when she talks about swimming and horses.

Listening to the campers sing in a camp circle is proof positive that some things stay with us for years in spite of ourselves, such as the words to the Johnny Appleseed song that drifted back to a reporter's mind from a campfire long ago.

Years later, these kids will remember Bingo and Johnny Appleseed too, the clean air, the horses and the kindness of strangers.

"I just want them to get the idea that people care for them," Turman said.

For years this has been Turman's dream, but it wasn't until after last year's civil unrest and its destruction that he began to turn his dream into reality.

"That's when I said, 'Ready or not, here I go.' Sometimes we want ideal situations before we fulfill our dreams. But sometimes you can't wait for the ideal, you just have to go. God willing and the creek don't rise, it turns out all right."

So far the creek has not risen at Camp Gid-d-up, but things are far from ideal.

Although the camp receives donations and support from some businesses, such as Cross-Colours and Black Entertainment Television (BET), the children do not pay for camp. Finding a way to cover the costs is a constant struggle for the Turman family.

The camp session could last longer, Jo-An explains looking across at the portable toilets, if the kids had better bathroom and showering facilities. And the cost of food is a major burden.

But Goethe could have been talking about Camp Gid-d-up when he said, "Whatever you can do or dream you can begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."

Because there is magic at Camp Gid-d-up. The kind that brings out the best in everybody involved, including Turman's Lake Hughes neighbors, who help out on the grounds, and actress Dawnn Lewis, a sponsor who sometimes spends the day riding with the kids.

Then there's the Turman family. For them camp is a family affair: Jo-An's sister, Allyson, trains the counselors, their mother works in the kitchen and Turman's son Darryl is a camp counselor. The couple's 5-year-old daughter Delena does a bang-up job as mascot.

The counselors have their own stories. There's Charles Rachal, a former gang member whose efforts to forge a gang truce won him an invitation to the presidential inauguration.

And Conrad Gamble, 26, who wants to start a program for at-risk males.

"Most of these kids never get any scope of life outside their neighborhoods," Gamble said. So they get caught up in that world, a world that sometimes stifles dreams before they are born. The camp, he said, "'gets them outside their little boxes."

Twelve-year-old Jesse from East Los Angeles knows about these boxes. Maybe if those gang members who tried to beat him up could come to Camp Gid-d-up "they'd change a little bit," Jesse said.

"It's clean air up here," he says, threading brightly colored beads for a friendship bracelet. "You can see the stars. Here it's not rowdy. It's peaceful."

" .. For giving me, The things I need

"The sun and the rain and the apple seed,

"The Lord's been good to me."

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