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TIMES CAMP FUND

Summer memories keep teens smiling

Pasadena boys enjoyed good food, zany antics and even a chance to record their own CD.

June 10, 2003|Shane Nelson | Times Staff Writer

The possibility of meeting out-of-town girls lured cousins Juan and Martin Gutian away from northwest Pasadena to attend a camp in the Santa Monica Mountains last summer. But it was a songwriting class that made the week worthwhile.

Well, that and the three "really good" meals a day, swimming, hiking, archery, daily zany activities and nightly stories around the campfire.

The boys, now 17, had such a great time at the Salvation Army's Camp Mt. Crags that they composed a rap song with a couple of their friends to commemorate the experience. They recorded the song on a CD, which was played during Sunday morning services at the camp.

On their ride home, they blasted the CD on the car stereo.

"They were pretty proud of it at the time. It was a really cool connecting point with me because I had never seen them excited about anything before," said Mayra Nolan, program director of the Lake Avenue Community Foundation. The church group sponsored the boys and some of their friends for a break from their troubled surroundings.

"In their neighborhood, if you don't have a hard exterior, then you're punked, people are going to pick on you," said Nolan. "The harder you are, the more respect you get. It's real important, especially if you're a guy." The group will send more children of Latino immigrants to camp this year, thanks to the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign.

In their working-class community, parents work long hours as gardeners, housekeepers and at other low-paying jobs. "Their main focus is bringing food to the table and paying the bills. Kids get a lot of independence," said foundation program manager Anna Espinal. Sometimes they get in trouble with the law.

"The camp experience is good because it takes the kids out of their area and exposes them to different people and ambitions," she said.

When Juan came back from camp, he decided to return to school after a two-year absence. He also rejoined the foundation's tutoring sessions. Martin, who graduates this month, plans to go to college.

They recently reminisced with fellow campers Bernardo Garcia, 14, and Luis Granados, 15. They were in stitches recalling how they won the "funniest lunch" competition. They laid out their counselor on the lunch table, doused him with ketchup and pretended to perform surgery. A year later, they still find the episode hilarious.

Martin and Juan are now too old for camp, but they will always have happy memories -- and copies of their rap CD.

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