When Daniel was 6 weeks old, his drug-addicted mother left him and his two older brothers with her parents after she was arrested on suspicion of child neglect. Then she disappeared from their lives. Because he was a "drug baby," Daniel suffered from twitches and tremors until the first grade.
"I sent him to kindergarten, and the teachers asked 'What could we do?'" said his grandmother, Christina Marshall, 57, who cares for the child with her husband, Patrick, a 58-year-old trucker. "I said, 'Put your arms around him, hold him tight, make him feel secure.' And the shaking would stop."
Though the twitches are less frequent, Daniel, now a teenager, still has to work twice as hard to get through school. "He is in special ed because it takes a long time for him to finish his schoolwork," said Salvation Army social-service aide Cindy Silvers. "Special ed can be a stigma, but at camp he's not a special-ed kid. He's just Daniel, a 13-year-old boy."
Since he was 7, Daniel has spent five days each summer at Camp Gilmore in Malibu, thanks to a Salvation Army program for underprivileged children. This year, the camp program received a $160,000 donation from the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign.
His grandmother said camp has enabled Daniel to overcome his insecurity and clingy dependence on her. "He had tears in his eyes" when he first left for camp from their El Monte home. When she arrived an hour early to pick him up at the session's end, she found a much more outgoing boy. "He was jabbering with other kids ... and as he ran by, I pulled on his shirt and said, 'Excuse me?'" Marshall said, laughing. "He had learned a lot of independence."
This was a different Daniel who as an infant had to sleep in an incubator because he had severe jaundice. His grandparents would "sneak him out at night so he could sleep with us," Christina Marshall said. "We'd touch his little nose, and he had the most beautiful curly hair. We probably shouldn't have taken him out, but he needed to form that bond."
Now that he's a teenager in baggy clothes, Silvers calls him a contradiction. "He looks kind of gang-bangy, he's into skateboarding. But he's very loving and respectful of his grandmother." Camp Gilmore Program Director Jim Sparks said style doesn't matter at camp. It is "not like in school, where all the kids are grouped together based on dress ... here it doesn't matter." In between rope-climbing courses like the "leap of faith" (where campers jump off a pole and try to grab onto a trapeze), swimming, and hiking, everyone seems to be on equal footing. Well, almost.
"It is always the tough, tough kids who have the roughest time with the long hikes," Sparks said. "They start out saying, 'Man, I hike all the time.'" Once he gets them on a long hike, though, they quickly shed their bravado.
Daniel said he is looking forward to the new challenges when he goes to Wilderness Camp this summer, but he still remembers how hard it was the first year, when he got into a fight with other campers. After talking to a leader, Daniel talked to the boys, "and they started to be my friend. I saw them last year, and it was cool." It is easier for everyone to get along at the camp, according to Daniel, because they have to do more things as a group.
Every year since 1954, readers and employees of The Times have sent thousands of needy children to summer camp. This year more than 11,000 children will experience a special summer, thanks to the $1.6 million raised last year. The average cost of sending a child to camp for a week is $150. This year, the McCormick Tribune Foundation will match the first $1.2 million in contributions at 50 cents on the dollar.
Checks should be sent to: L.A. Times Summer Camp Campaign, File No. 56984, Los Angeles, CA 90074-6984. For more information, call (213) 237-5771. To make credit-card donations, visit www. latimes.com/summercamp. Do not send cash. All donations are tax-deductible. Unless donors request otherwise, gifts of $25 or more are acknowledged in The Times. The summer camp campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation.