More than in many other counties, the Camp Fire USA program in Ventura County has changed dramatically over the last two decades.
Members no longer meet routinely at a parent's home as they did in the days of Ozzie and Harriet. Few go on official camping outings. Most lack uniforms and can't afford the $14 T-shirts that are available to them.
There simply isn't enough money for those things.
But Executive Director Marsha DeWitt is an optimist, and she is pushing for more family and community involvement.
"I think today's program offers opportunities for kids to explore lots of areas," she said in her Oxnard office. "There's a lot more linkage to their learning now."
The Ventura County program largely consists of building self esteem, anti-drug education, and a day-care program at five schools in some of the county's poorest areas.
Camp Fire USA-Ventura County Council provided day-care services for 312 children during the past year at Bard and Hueneme Elementary schools in Port Hueneme, and at Saticoy Elementary School in Ventura and Rio Plaza Elementary School in El Rio.
The program also served 511 children in an after-school program at McAuliffe Elementary School in Oxnard.
DeWitt says she uses any funds she receives these days on essentials. A $5,000 Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign grant was used exclusively for books and bookshelves.
"Books were our greatest need," she said. "It would be great to get donations for uniforms and T-shirts. Computers would be wonderful.
"But I try to ask for money I'm sure everybody can benefit from."
During this holiday season, The Times is featuring charitable organizations in Southern California that benefited from its 2001 fund-raising appeal. More than 50 agencies shared the $653,000 raised last year.
Every dollar raised, plus matching gifts from the McCormick Tribune Foundation, goes directly to the charities; The Times and the Foundation absorb all administrative costs.
For the Ventura Camp Fire group, money has been a problem since the 1980s, DeWitt said. At that time, the program was changing. First it was Camp Fire Girls. Then it became Camp Fire Boys and Girls. And now Camp Fire USA.
Along the way, Camp Fire clubs meeting regularly in homes simply disappeared, DeWitt said. But she has hopes for a gradual comeback of the old days.
"We have a mother in Camarillo who is home-schooling her daughter, and she started a club in her house last year," DeWitt said. "It started with one girl. Now there are two. So that's doubling the population in a year. We want to do more."
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