Seven-year old Ashley Hernandez was born deaf, a hereditary condition she shares with both her mother and father. Unfortunately, the three haven't had many opportunities to sign with one another. When Ashley was 3, she was found alone wandering on La Habra Boulevard and someone called the police, according to her grandmother, Rita Hernandez. "Her mother was drunk, and Ashley was taken away in a police car."
Hernandez, a 58-year-old Montebello homemaker, stepped forward to care for Ashley and her two older (hearing) brothers while both of their parents wrestled with alcohol and drug abuse problems. Still, the social workers wanted to place Ashley in a foster home with a deaf family. Hernandez fought to keep the child, and a judge allowed her to adopt Ashley and her brothers.
When Hernandez was raising Ashley's mom, the emphasis in educating hearing-impaired children was on lip-reading and speech rather than signing. Consequently, Hernandez never learned to sign and is only now taking classes. She worried that Ashley, who during the school year lives at the California School for the Deaf in Riverside, wouldn't have children to communicate with during the summer. So she sought out the Lions Wilderness Camp for Deaf Children in Wrightwood. Ashley will attend this camp for the first time thanks to the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters organization and donations to the Los Angeles Times summer camp campaign.
"Here at home, I take her to birthday parties, but they are all hearing children. I can see that she has fun, but she would have more fun around deaf people," said Hernandez. "I can see she feels less doubt around them."
On the weekends, Ashley sometimes sees her father and mother. Hernandez supervises both parents during visits to make sure they are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The experiences with her parents have hardened Ashley, according to her grandmother. "Ashley can be mean. She'll push a child, but that is what she's seen in her life," said Hernandez, referring to domestic trouble between Ashley's parents. "If she falls and hurts herself, she won't cry."
Jane Armstrong, the director of a program for the deaf and hard of hearing for Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters, hopes that camp will be a chance for Ashley to let go of some of her past and focus on the positive influences. "I think life has been hard for her, but she has enough people who care about her that it is OK."
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.