"They want hugs, they want to be tucked in at night, they want me to sit in their cabins until they fall asleep. They're hungry for that."
Camp Alumni Find Success
Camp counselors say that, of course, there is no guarantee the lessons will stay with the young campers when they return home. But more often than not, Gutierrez said, the trip makes a difference. How else, he asked, can you explain the numerous camp alumni who have gone on to college? Four are currently in doctorate programs.
"And these are kids who were never supposed to finish the eighth grade," he said. "It's our job to see that spark of potential in these kids and to ignite it. That is what we do."
At least for now. With a budget shortage hanging over them, camp officials are searching for new and creative ways to raise money. A Sponsor a Boy program invites businesses and individuals to cover the expenses of one summer at camp and a year of follow-up counseling. The cost: $1,000.
"It's time for us to start turning to people and let them know, 'Hey, we've been here for years and we've made an impact in your community," Gutierrez said. "We are a good place to put your dollars."
Emotions ran high on the last day. The boys passed the time with games: dodge ball, tug of war, relay races.
Not everyone had fully accepted the camp's motto: We teach boys how to be men. There had been a few scuffles. Some still needed reminding to tuck in their shirts before dinner.
But most had made progress.
"I used to tease Dylan a lot," Joshua said, while sitting on a bench and resting after a game of tug of war. "But I don't anymore. I used to think it was no big deal. I just thought everyone was trying to run over me and stuff, so I ended up pushing some people. I learned I have problems and I was taking it out on other people. I don't want to do that anymore."
Dylan saw the change in Joshua, too. And in himself.
"He's certainly nicer to me," he said. "And I'm trying. If I have a problem with people, I can solve them. I did over here, didn't I?"
At the final campfire, everyone fell silent.
Against the crackle and pop of the roaring blaze, each boy took a turn in the center of a pine cone circle. One by one, each shared what the camp meant to him.
"I learned not everyone is against you," said 13-year-old Armando, of Ventura. "I learned you don't have to go through everything alone."
"I learned I do have family," Elijah said when it was his turn to speak. "Not by blood, but I have family. I have family here."
As the ceremony drew to a close, the group gathered in a friendship circle. Seeing Dylan standing on the edge, Joseph reached out and yanked him into the circle with an arm around the neck.
To contact Pyles Boys Camp, call (661) 294-1394 or write 27211 Henry Mayo Drive, Valencia, CA 91355.